Friday, 31 January 2014

Friday Cocktail: The Ginger Piglet

This week I spent a wonderful couple of days at The Pig hotel in the New Forest. They have a 300-strong wine list and a selection of cocktails to die for, so you can imagine what kind of a time I had.

One cocktail in particular stole my heart - The Pig's Tail - so when I got back I spent the afternoon trying to create something similar. The recipe I came up with wasn't quite the same, but it's slightly boozier, so I think it's better...

It's a perfect blend of zingy lemon, refreshing apple, sweet, warming ginger and a juicy hint of blackcurrant, and it's easy-peasy to make. You will need to whip up a ginger syrup (I use this effortless Martha Stewart recipe) but it's SO simple anyone can do it, and takes no time at all - perfect to make on a Friday night so you can be cocktail-fuelled all weekend.

The Ginger Piglet recipe (serves one)


  • 3.5 shots cloudy apple juice
  • 1 shot fresh lemon juice
  • 1.5 shots vodka (as good as you can afford)
  • 3/4 shot (or around 20ml) ginger syrup
  • 2.5tsp creme de cassis

Shake it!

1. Pour all of the ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice cubes.
2. Shake it like a polaroid picture for about 5 seconds and strain the mixture into a martini glass.
3. Garnish with a curl of lemon peel if you're that way inclined.

Happy weekend! Let us know your drinks plans in the comments...

The Wine Magician Documentary: Explaining & Exploring Biodynamic Winemaking

A lot of people have a very strong view on biodynamic wine-making. It is kind of the veganism of the wine world, in that on paper, it certainly has its plus-points, however the people who do it are unfortunately sometimes self-indulgent and off-putting.

Biodynamic winemaking is kind of like the hippy, far-out distant cousin of organic production, relying on mysticism (such as burying manure-filled cow horns and chamomile flower-filled cow intestines in the vineyard) but in some blind tastings it does appear to have proven effective. The problem is, no one really understands it, and reading about it is boring as hell.

I found a short documentary to do with biodynamic wine making that I really wanted to share with everyone - it is a real insight to the world of biodynamy and goes some way to explaining people's reasons for doing it.

Victor, who presents the documentary, is a top lad too - I like documentary makers with blue hair that say 'shit' in a French accent. Although he does make his skepticism felt throughout the video.

If you can take 15 minutes, I would really recommend watching this and then we would love to hear your views on the subject. Do you think it is worth doing, or is it total madness?

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Beer: Looking Past the Label

We've all been there, stood in the booze isle of your local supermarket (in my case, Asda) staring, week after week wondering what beer/wine/general booze you want to buy for your evenings consumption.

We also know that there are things which will instantly take our fancy. In my case, it is to go back to the things I love. Tried, tested, worked. With this in mind, I also always have certain items that - no matter how often I pick them up, read the labels and consider them - I still won't buy. My reason for this? No idea whatsoever. They just look shit.

So this evening, I took it upon myself to waltz down the beer isle and pick up just what I have been avoiding for the past YEAR, man up and bloody drink it!! Here is how I got on.

Shepherd Neame & Co- India Pale Ale
So why have I been avoiding this? Well, lets be honest, the bottle is hideous. It is a fat, ugly, stubby shape with a repulsive pumpkin orange label with far too much writing on it. But as we all know, looks can be deceiving and it is what is on the inside that counts. Sadly, it doesn't get much better.
The colour is a very nice, light, amber in the glass. However, on the nose you get slightly dull, flabby fruit like dried apricots with a touch of light, earthy hops. On the palate, the bitterness is bordering unpleasant and the apricots on the nose turn into a rather horrible, mouldy, confected nectarine and slightly banana-ish taste. Unpleasant. Avoid.

Mainbrace IPA- Asda Extra Special
A slightly more attractive label but still far too much writing. I tend not to trust anything that has all of the tasting notes on the front label. Seems to be trying too hard to prove itself. However, this does seem promising!
Again, the typical I.P.A colour, light amber with a lovely clear shine. On the nose we have plenty of citrus fruits, plenty of hops with a lovely, sweet fruity character. The palate is light, refreshing and zesty with a lingering bitter after taste.
Despite this, it is only 4.5% and although this may seem still quite punchy compared to your girly lagers, it tastes slightly thin, watery and lacking in substance. Whats this? Brewed by Shepherd Neame & Co? You're not in my good books today. Pleasant enough, buy if the only thing in the shop.

Now before we get too many complaints, I am NOT having a go at Shepherd Neame brewery. They make some AMAZING beers such as Spitfire and Samuel Adams.These two however are just shit. Like, seriously not good.
If I could be Hermione I would use my Time-Turner to go back in time to that brief moment in Asda were I thought to myself 'Ohhhh, I'll buy some beer that I would never buy normally' and smack myself in the face.
Sadly, I don't have a Time Turner and am nowhere near good looking enough to even pretend to be Emma Watson. I am also male.
So, what is the moral of this story?
Ummmm...  If you're Hermione Granger and you're looking for a great session beer from the Asda in Hogsmead, don't buy these? Buy Spitfire instead?

Lets go with that.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

An Indie Rocker: Smokehead, The Rock Edition

The Grammys have been and gone, once again artificial electro-pop took the top gongs and it's time for hardened rockers and lovers of all things analog to take a stand. Of course, the best way to take a stand is to get a nice fire going (not in an arsonist way) and sit back with a good book or in the company of great friends and a heavy smokey whisky.

Smokehead is an independent bottling of an Islay malt that embodies the heavier side of whisky. The tube is adorned with a smoking skull made up of adjectives for the malted contents. Smokehead again laughs in the face of convention with it's bottle label - an almost non-entity with the majority being on the reverse of the back label making you squint through the whisky to read it. Everything about this bottling is different and damned cool, making me want to chuck on some metal, and stick two fingers up to the man!

On the nose, Smokehead is really massive, and full of the typical Islay power chords: the salt, sea, medicine, iodine and seaweed. However there is added depth in a fruity richness, raisins, caramel and the slightest hint of mint. This is a wonderfully layered nose that would appease many an Islay fan - it's definitely a heavy one that keeps on giving.

On the palate the Smokehead follows through on the offerings from the nose - the salt comes through with a hit of spice, the medicinal qualities fade, before the sweet and the heat settle in, providing a nice long finish. This is a real warming whisky that has everything that you want from an Islay malt - it is big, and wonderfully polished and finished.

This isn't the most deep and complicated whisky ever made, but it's a really nicely rounded, balanced and powerful example of the Islay style all tied up in wicked branding that really suits, and is perfect for getting over the post-Grammy blues or for listening to your favourite metal album.

Smokehead is available to all rock and metal lovers from Master of Malt at £33.43 - it's no longer available direct from Smokehead, so get some while you can!

The "Which Champagne Are You?" Quiz

I have been thinking (which is NOT one of the first signs of the apocalypse, shut up) and realised that some of the best known Champagnes out there are very much like certain types of people.

No other category of wine has quite so many distinct variations from one producer to the next, while still falling under the one umbrella.

So, I created a quiz, in the name of science, to enable you to discover which Champagne you are most like. The folks at NASA have absolutely not been involved in this in any way, i put on a lab-coat and set fire to a microwave and that is how the "Which Champagne Are You" quiz was born.

Answers must be posted below!

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Easy vodka jelly shots recipe

With a little blush of shame, I am forced to admit that although my twenties are coming to an end, I have only made vodka jelly shots twice: once for my 21st birthday and once last weekend.

Perhaps I'm feeling nostalgic about the prospect of turning 30? I don't know, but I can say that vodka jelly shots are so, so simple to make... It's the ultimate in kidulthood crossovers: kid's party jelly spiked with grownup vodka. What's not to love?

Back when I was 21, I had pink jelly shots to complement my Barbie and Ken themed party (talk about not wanting to grow up!), but this weekend it was all about the green and gold for Australia Day. After a sarcastic 'where are you going to get gold jelly from?' from the other half (though I'm sure it does exist), I settled on yellow instead and opted for lemon and lime.

You'll need...

How to...

For each colour jelly:
1. Break up the sticky jelly squares into a large jug.
2. Add 1 cup of boiling water and stir to dissolve jelly. Leave to cool for about 15 minutes.
3. In a separate jug/bowl, mix 1/2 cup cold water and 1/2 cup vodka.
4. Add the vodka/water mix to the jelly mix and stir until combined.
5. Using a funnel (SO much easier!), pour into shot glasses.
6. Chill in the fridge for at least 4 hours, if not overnight.

Quantities are important, as is the cooling down of the boiling jelly mixture before adding vodka. If not done right, the vodka can inhibit the jelly from setting and you'll end up with, well, sweet, sticky lime vodka.

Also, the plastic shot glasses break very easily if you try to put to whole thing in your mouth and suck the life out of it. Jelly needs gentle coaxing away from the side of the glass before the sucking can commence. If you want to be ladylike about it, eat it with a spoon. I didn't bother...

Hardcore Drinks For Hardcore Drinkers.

Photo taken from opethpainter under CCL
Lots of drinkers these days see themselves as hardcore. When it actually comes down to it though, it's more to do with quantity than quality. Take a look at the typical bloke in the bar on a Saturday night with all his other Hollister clad mates getting a bit lairy. Are they necking absinthe directly from the bottle? No! They're slurping on lager tops with the occasional sambuca thrown in there. Oh look one of them's set it alight in his mouth. Oh dear, his face is on fire.

So what do you do when you really want to challenge yourself but not drink to excess? Well, try these on for size, you pansy!

Beer (ish) 

Those maniacs up in BrewDog offer the Watt Dickie. But what is the Watt Dickie? Well it started life as a humble IPA, bouncing around the Hoppy Forest with it's good friends Golden Ale and Stout. Then it was ripped away and cast into a frozen hell where it endured torturous temperatures. The cold altered it's mind making it question it's own identity, all the while giving a new found strength. The result is a 35% malty beast that not only tastes great, but will kick you in the head and laugh at you as you cry on the floor. Stick on some Converge and serve it neat or on the rocks.
Watt Dickie is available from the BrewDog website for £3.50 for a 60ml bottle.


Manage to get your filthy chops around that without falling over? Good because here comes trouble! Everyone knows rum is awesome. Not only are there the classic pirate connotations but it also invokes images of sun drenched beaches, not to mention those HILARIOUS Malibu adverts from a few years back. Well this melon is certainly not for display purpose only! Over in Trinidad and Tobago they have been cooking up a twisted concoction for hundreds of years known as Puncheon Rum. As a young boy (mid teens) I was introduced to this by none other than my own family. I was immediately surprised to see that on the label it read 'not less than 75%'. THEY DON'T EVEN KNOW HOW STRONG IT IS AND THEY MADE IT! Well this should be fun! Aside from wiping your face clean off of your body it does actually have a taste. Just imagine a normal white rum and multiply the burning by lots. Grab a bottle from for £35.99.


By now you should be feeling pretty sick. I genuinely feel sick just writing this, but that might have something to do with lunch. Our final stop in the carousel of lunacy brings us to a Soho establishment known as Zenna Bar. Home of the Hottest Cocktail in the WORLD! Seriously, you have to sign a disclaimer saying that you won't sue the living daylights out of the place if it all goes belly up.

What can I say other than it's fire in a glass! Sweats, stingy eyes, flushed cheeks and just a general feeling of discomfort are all present and accounted for after this beast. Maybe stick to a sex on the beach.

So if you've managed to make it through all three of those, just let me know what ward you're on and what hours I can come and visit. It's okay, I'll bring you grapes and an ocean sounds CD to make it all better. Pansy.

I really should emphasise that these should be enjoyed in moderation. Drink responsibly and what not.

Monday, 27 January 2014

2014 Drinks Trend Predictions

By Lucienne Simpson

Last year, with the release of Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby, we fully embraced the roaring 20s - it seemed everyone attended Prohibition-themed cocktail parties, speakeasies were popping up at every opportunity, and coupes were by far the glassware of choice.

With this saw a change in our drinking habits. For a start, there was the decline of the long-listed cocktail. You know the sort: an endless number of ingredients – a drop of this, a dash of that, rinse your glass with something else – all of which would be impossible to recreate at home... probably because you lost interest after watching the first few things go in. 
Pumpkin cocktail taken from Dinner Series'

Instead, we went back to the classics: simpler drinks, with only three or four components and room for variations - lots of hard spirits, vermouth, bitters, citrus, served straight up. Let’s face it, we hated those pint-sized, super sweet, fruit juice “cocktails” of yester-year anyway. Now, with the majority of Christmas and NYE parties jumping on the 1920’s bandwagon, the speakeasy thing feels done, and we’re ready for something fresh.

With January resolutions in mind, we like to have a bit of a detox after a season of festive indulgence, so for those who aren’t off the sauce, perhaps a trend in vegetable cocktails might be of interest. Tomato juice in a Bloody Mary is commonplace on most menus, but how do you feel about an earthy beetroot version? Or a Margarita mixed with carrot juice? I tried a kale cocktail at London’s Duck & Waffle recently, which ticked all the taste sensation boxes, but if you’re not feeling so adventurous, something like a pumpkin bellini might be a safer place to start.

Vintage is always in vogue, so maybe we’ll see more old-fashioned tipples making a comeback in 2014. Forgotten drinks such as Benedictine and Chartreuse currently seem to be in favour with mixologists, so I expect we’ll be seeing more of those. Sherry’s had bit of a revival of late too, but how about its fortified French friend Dubonnet? (Yes Ma’am, it’s the Queen’s favourite apparently.)

I think we’re much more interested in having decent drinks now (gone are the days of settling for house spirits), and just as we are enthusiastic about drinking it, people are enthusiastic about making it. The notions of ‘artisanal’ and ‘craft’ have boomed in the past few years, and will only increase - yes, more small-scale distilleries and microbreweries creating top-notch booze, please. 

With this in mind, people are getting more inventive in the pre-mixed cocktail world too (see you later Bacardi Breezer) and a cursory glance at your local supermarket shelves will reveal a plethora of big brands like Gordons popping up claiming to take the work out of cocktails. There are also more premium brands such as The Handmade Cocktail Company, Tails and My Cocktail. That said, I’m not convinced: personally, I like the theatrics of a bar tender (or me) and shaker...

Overall, I think 2014 will see stripped back drinks menus, with more emphasis on ‘bespoke’, more neat spirits (I predict tequila and mezcal) and unusual grape varieties making the headlines in the wine department...

I’ll toast to that.

Top photo from Karen OD's photostream under the CCL.

Drinks Delivered: Twist Cocktails' Subscription Service

Over the past year or so it has become quite a trend for artisan drinks brands to offer a subscription service. There's new ones popping up all the time, each one trying to outdo the other in terms of fancy ingredients or wacky concepts, but I think Twist Cocktails' brand new service is exciting for an entirely different reason: it's flexibility.

Twist Cocktails offer a wonderful, reasonably-priced cocktail subscription service - one they only launched yesterday, but I've been waiting impatiently to tell you since I discovered what they had planned a few months back - which is themed around a different cocktail each month.

Basically, when you sign up (or indeed buy a one-off box - that's fine too) they'll send you a pretty box containing all the main drinks components of a particular cocktail (using only premium brands and producers) plus some recipes and fun trivia and interviews for fact fans.

 They don't necessarily include absolutely every ingredient - if you need something like a squeeze of lemon or an egg white they'll let you know to have it ready - but they do make that completely clear to give you time to prepare.

The best part? It's what they call a 'soft subscription' - once you've signed up, they'll send you the first box (this month it's a Manhattan box) but for all future months they'll contact you to let you know what the box is and ask you to confirm you definitely want it before they send it. You're under no obligation to buy any particular number of boxes. That's pretty good, especially for fusspots like me.

The monthly cost is £24.99, which I think is pretty reasonable bearing in mind there's always enough to make 3 or 4 cocktails in each box. You'd easily spend that in a cocktail bar (even a relatively down-market one) and this way you don't even have to leave the house.

Oh, and they also do a one-off mixologist kit for £29.99 in case you need your jiggers and shakers.

Now who wants to send me one to try for myself?

Friday, 24 January 2014

Friday Cocktail: The Crazy Daisy

It's been a bit of a week. The patience of my entire household and I has been tested to the limit by a certain fluffy, golden, butter-wouldn't-melt puppy of ours. Daisy.

Ah, Daisy. She was so cute when we first got her:

But then she grew and grew, and six months down the line she's a big, bulky, boisterous tornado of a dog, and you wouldn't believe the things she gets up to. When the clock struck midnight and we saw in the first day of 2014, she took advantage of the kissing, hugging and Auld Lang Syne singing and snuck upstairs to eat an entire box of flumps I'd got for Christmas. They then colourfully reappeared the next day.

And this week, she's discovered The Kitchen Bin and all its many wonders - from 4-day-old eclairs (and the box and plastic it comes in), to envelopes, to CD cases AND THE C.D INSIDE IT - all of which have ended up in hundreds of tiny pieces scattered around the entire house. Not to mention the muddy paw prints on the stairs, on the walls, ON MY BED, and the barking every time an animal appears on TV.

She's tested us to the point of distraction this week, so I decided we needed a big, boozy cocktail, and who better to name it after than the one that made our need for it so pressing?

A 'brandy daisy' cocktail has existed in various forms for decades, so I've created my own little version especially for our own (unhinged) Daisy. It's somewhat bittersweet, rather like owning Daisy is, and is best served ice cold (scroll down for the recipe.) Refreshing, zingy and moreish (she can be most of those things too, I suppose.)

As you can see, Daisy appeared to approve:

Two crazy daisies.

The Crazy Daisy cocktail recipe (serves one)


  • 1.5 shots French brandy
  • 1 shot rum
  • 1 shot freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1.5 tsp grenadine
  • Soda water, to top up
  • One cherry, to garnish

Shake it!

1. Pour the brandy, rum, lemon juice and grenadine into a cocktail shaker filled with ice, and shake it like a dog's tail at dinner time for around 7 seconds.
2. Strain into a champagne coupe or old-fashioned glass.
3. Top up with soda water and pop in the cherry.

Happy weekending!

On Doing Things Right - Tasting, Writing and Not Being a Jerk

I’ve spent most of my life assessing wine, in one way or another. Whether it's just drinking it to say 'hey, that's pretty great', evaluating it as a sommelier for a restaurant, or determining quality in a blind tasting for a competition or exam. In hindsight, this appears fantastically idiotic, but still, here I am, 10 years in. I'm still at it, tasting it, talking about it, assessing it.

It’s the most splendid obsession, so much so that when I try to remember things, I find myself setting up the memories like they're a vertical. 2007? A great year, lots of change and development and still holds up to this day. 2011 was a horrible vintage. Dead on opening. Boring at best. Many of my peers and critics had 2013 marked up as a great year but in conclusion it was a disappointment and completely stank of brett. Often people around me equate my obsession with wine with an illness, or worse, with a religion.

Wine Tasting

Despite being a cub in the scheme of the wine trade, I am still asked, flatteringly, for advice in evaluation and knowledge regarding wine and the one thing I always like to hammer home is that there is no definitive method for it. Anyone, or any educational institute that tells you that there is is lying to you.

All methods have weaknesses. I was with a MW student recently who showed me a terrifyingly complicated grind devised by Anthony Moss known affectionately (?!) as the 'Moss Cross'. Ok, so it wasn't that complicated, but it wasn't for me. The same MW student looked at my scrawl of acronyms which are markers for me to comment on acidity, winemaking style, use of oak, balance, complexity and thought I was insane. Looking back on my notes, I can see their point.

Take Note of your Tasting Surroundings

Method is one thing, location is another. Attending a tasting in a giant hall full of tasters is a bad experience. Alcohol, sweat, carpeting and cheese, I never understand why wine tastings go to such an effort to get you there to evaluate wine and then ruin it by shoving a round of cheese on every other table. Marking wines out of ten when you're tasting so much is not just stupid but arrogant. The scores are meaningless, you're benchmarking against nothing.

Don't Be Afraid To Ask Questions

Winemaker tastings are a better experience: you're getting an education but you need to exercise your critical faculties. Owners and winemakers lie to writers, buyers, sommeliers and themselves. Not all of them, and not all of them with unsavoury intentions, but you still have to be careful. I remember visiting a winery which swore blind they matured everything in French oak, to be thoroughly embarrassed when I uncovered some Californian barrels in a bit of the winery I don't think I was supposed to be in. 'We never filter, honest guv' - so what's with the great big filter over there then pal? It doesn't matter that they do this stuff when you're evaluating a wine, but it's worth knowing that wineries, like any other business, like to tell you what you want to hear. Then it's reported by a blogger or the trade press or whatever who doesn't always know how to think critically and it becomes part of the canon and no-one questions it.

The Future Is Blind

Blind tasting is the future. It's the way. Lots of wines to taste? Perfect, you're benchmarking correctly and objectively. Judging wines for a competition? It's essential. People may complain that even in blind tastings scores or ratings vary between tastings, but a basic understanding of human nature explains this phenomenon.

Tasting solo is very different to tasting with a group or panel and crucially, and here is the kicker, drinking is not the same as tasting. There are so many variables in wine evaluation, it almost makes it seem useless. OK, you said it, not me.

If You're Going To Write, Do It Right

Do I write about wines for blogs? Very infrequently, perhaps as a member of the trade I should, but I don't know how to go about it. I don't want to write about wineries where I've been given spiel, I don't want to sit there and taste them like I'm in an MW exam. I want to drink wine and enjoy it and talk about wine in a full context of what I know of the region, what I know of the winery but mostly the context I enjoyed it in. Frankly, I think that most wines, beers, whatever don't deserve this much attention anyway, which is why you'll never get my tasting notes presented neatly to you. It'd be like someone unexpectedly revealing their spirituality to you. No-one wants that.

The drinks trade isn't stupid. They don't send freebies to anyone who really knows anything about what they're talking about unless they're absolutely 100% sure it's the style they're interested in or there will be some degree of positive coverage. Many bloggers aren't necessarily writers, many can't be bothered to do research and they don't delve deep enough to find out what's really going on. They will just regurgitate what they think they already know and it's not good enough. You want to be known in the trade? For your ability to taste? Don't just write a blog, go out and meet people who are genuinely influential and taste with them.

So I won't write you tasting notes, not unless I've done my research and I'm prepared to stand by it. I've never thought myself a writer because I don't have the time to devote to it. I won't blog lazily about something I half know about.

If you made it this far, you're a gem. Keep tasting, keep drinking, keep reading. Will I ever manage to write properly for anyone? Time will tell, of course, but I’m a believer.

Images, in order, taken from eblaser, Mellinda & Cristiano, Prayitno, Itdan and Mike Licht's photostreams under the Creative Commons License

The Perfect Party Champagne

I like Champagne and I like to party but what Champagne do you take to a party? It's a question I ask myself every Friday (it really isn't).

The problem is, if you go for something too expensive, people might not appreciate it. If you go for something too cheap, people will notice, especially if it's a special occasion.

As not everyone at a party will particularly know their wine, they might not all appreciate that magnum of Krug Collection 1989 that you have been keeping and thought you would crack out at Aunty Doris's 70th. Save that for my birthday please. Thanks.

People like what they know, as sad as that is. There are certain brands of fizz that people know more than others. Often you will get more excitement out of a crowd by presenting them with something that is shiny and has a word on the label that they recognise. People are morons after all...

If you bring the right Champagne to
a party, this could be you.
This is why Moët & Chandon is so disgustingly successful - marketing. This is the sort of thing that will make you look like the dog's bollocks at a party. Also, bigger is better, always remember that. If you aren't too sure, go for a magnum of fizz... people like big stuff. Oooooh.

Possibly the best Champagne to get for a party that will look good and please the masses (making you pretty much king/queen) is Moët & Chandon's Demi Sec. This is a slightly sweeter style of Champagne than "Brut" which is considered the norm. That little bit of extra sugar means it appeals to people, even if they don't normally like Champagne. It is very easy drinking but also has the obvious Champers characteristics, meaning that people won't think you are sticking cheap fizz in a nice looking bottle!

As much as I wouldn't normally choose to drink Moët over a lot of other Champagnes, it is a great one for parties and gatherings. After all, that's pretty much exactly what it is made for.

You can buy Moët et Chandon Demi Sec Non Vintage Champagne from Sainsbury's for £32.99 per bottle.

Feel free to tell me I'm wrong in the comments - what's your go-to party fizz for a special occasion?

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Unmissable Opportunity: The Society's Exhibition Islay Single Malt 25yr

Back before Christmas I came across a whisky that I just had to review: the perfect blend of quality, value, rarity and uniqueness, it's the perfect bottle to give to someone or with which to treat yourself.

The whisky I'm talking about is the 25yr Islay single malt from The Wine Society - a snip at under £40. I was very excited about this bottle, but unfortunately so was everyone else, and this wonderful dram was sold out by early December. I was crestfallen, and yet with the New Year comes new hopes, dreams and even little miracles - the 25yr Islay single malt is back in stock!

This whisky comes from one of the very finest distilleries on Islay (the Society isn't able to divulge which), but its quality really is second to none and at £33 is priced at a third of what you would need to pay if it was the distillery's own branded bottle! It is bottled at 46% and is non-chill filtered so you get to really taste this whisky, without the loss of any flavour for aesthetic or economic reasons.

On the nose this dram is all Islay with its intoxicating iodine and seaweed aromas. The smoke is clear and light and mixes wonderfully with a toasty caramel. Lots of younger Islays can be a little headstrong, climbing out of the glass and stinging your nose, but this is a fantastically graceful and refined example with all the depth you could hope for, but nicely aged and softened.

So what does it taste like? Well, there's pepper, salt, smoke and medicinal flavours for a start, with toasted caramel making another appearance, and spices and the lightest touch of candied citrus peel on the finish. The length is really good and it coats the mouth nicely and keeps with you - perfect on these cold, rainy nights. The 25yr Exhibition is a wonderful example of a lighter Islay: the age has really added depth, but also rounded off any severe edges that you can get with the younger examples. A slight touch of water will work for those that are so inclined (but it will really only need a tiny bit).

This a wonderfully warming dram and absolutely perfect to get you through the last of the winter as we start to come into Feb. There has been no significant snow yet and so we may be due, but this is a perfect remedy for that. Alternatively, perhaps purchase a bottle and set it aside for next Christmas, you will be sorry if you miss out on this awesome bottle.

Please note that The Wine Society only sell to their members, membership is £40 (we, along with the rest of the wine world, really think it is worth it), but that buys you a lifetime share - win!

Get Your Aussie Beer Hat on for Australia Day

Whether it's back-to-back Neighbours and Home and Away after school, ogling Kylie's bum in gold hotpants, the Vegemite vs Marmite debate or watching the Aussies beat the Brits in cricket yet again, it's safe to say that you've all had a little fix of the sunburnt country at some point in your life. As a proud Braussie (born a Brit, raised an Aussie, living as a Brit) I get the best of both worlds, and love introducing friends to how the other half live and the quirks of Aussie culture.

This Sunday, 26th January, I'll be celebrating Australia Day along with millions of Aussies near (mostly in Clapham!) and far (the other side of the world). Sadly I won't be floating off the coast  down under on an inflatable thong - flip-flop to you folk - as part of the iconic Australia Day thong challenge or smuggling beers into Adelaide Oval to watch the one-dayer, but it is an excuse to have a party with good friends, good food and good booze to celebrate all things Aussie.

I could create an endless list of my favourite Aussie wines, but that's what I do for most of the year, so this weekend, it's all about the beer. The likelihood is that I'll be indoors with the heating on because it's too cold outside, but my spirit, like many other UK-based Aussies, will be at the beach, listening to the @Triple J #Hottest100 and cracking open a few ice cold stubbies.

Now before I launch into my love for Aussie beers, let's just get one thing straight - Australians do not drink Fosters. Despite the tongue in cheek advertisements with tanned, white-teethed Aussies, it's a brand, but it is not Australian and you will be laughed at if you ask for Fosters in an Australian bar or bottle-o. Of course, much like the UK there are traditional brews, and mass-produced brands, but there is much creativity in Australian brewing, and each state has their own icon. I've picked out a few favourites, which - gasp! - are actually available in the UK - hooray! Don't forget to serve ice cold.

From (the best city, and festival city) Adelaide in South Australia comes the Cooper's Pale Ale, (£20.99 for 12 x 37.5cl bottles at Majestic) and the Cooper's Sparkling Ale (by the 37.5cl bottle for £1.98 each at Waitrose). Cooper's is an iconic South Australian producer of many brews, but the Cooper's Pale and the Cooper's Sparkling are by far the best sellers. As an Adelaide girl, I might be slightly biased to the powers of Cooper's, but as I saw the familiar red label of the Sparkling in my local Waitrose, I think I actually squealed with delight!

The Pale Ale has a cloudy, golden appearance and is dry, refreshing and fruity - a middle ground between a gassy lager and a heavy ale. Before opening its customary to roll the bottle to stir up the sediment and is best served with good friends, good conversation and a bowlful of salted nuts.

The Cooper's Sparkling is malty and hoppy and has more bubbles than the Pale. It makes an excellent accompaniment to spicy foods like curry, or sticky spicy Asian ribs - barbecued of course.

From Fremantle in Western Australia is the Little Creatures Pale Ale, (£46.72 for 24 x 33cl bottles from Beer Here). Western Australia is famous for long days of sunshine, diverse landscapes - home to the Margaret River wine region, and also to Perth, the world's most isolated capital city. The Little Creatures Pale - launched into the Aussie market in just 2001 - is light and refreshingly hoppy with a distinctive bitterness. This one is best poured into a glass and savoured over a pizza lunch and preferably with plenty of sunshine. Be warned, it's so delicious and refreshing you will almost certainly crave more.

From Launceston in Tasmania, we have James Boag's Premium Lager, (£51.42 for 24 x 37.5cl bottles from Beer Here). With a rich brewing heritage (founded in 1881), James Boag's is recognised nationally and internationally as a premium producer and has become, let's face it, a bit of a beer icon in Australia. Classic and subtle, it's fresh and fruity with a good balance of malt and hops - a host of awards gives away how good this is - and makes a perfect partner to fresh seafood. Boag's is the beer you take to a mate's barbecue to show you've put in the effort of choosing a good 'un!

From the Matilda Bay Brewing Co at Port Melbourne in Victoria comes the delightful Beez Neez, (£15.30 for 6 x 37.5cl bottles from SANZA). According to info on the Matilda Bay Brewing Co. website (check it out, it's awesome), this was first created as a Christmas surprise for the staff of a local honey producer - a hand-crafted wheat beer with the addition of light amber honey.

It was such a hit it has become one of the best-known Matilda Bay brews and makes for a great conversation starter. Light and golden in colour, it has a distinct honey aroma and flavour, whilst retaining freshness and a subtle malt flavour. Even non-beer drinking friends can cope with this one!

Right, all this talk of beer is making me thirsty. I'm off to get set for Aussie Day and crack open a cold one.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Old School Gaming + New School Drinking

Now, if you're anything like me, there is nothing you like more than a few swift beers. However, coming in a pretty close second is a good session on the games console of your choice. So, we have all played drinking games. These may have been card games, neck and nominate etc etc, but what about combining your two favorite things? Drinking games AND gaming?

In light of two new mega consoles being released a few weeks ago, the Playstation 4 and the Xbox One, I am putting on my jumpsuit and sporting my retro shades as although these consoles are great, for me, nothing beats the old school. Pack up your potions, build up your stamina and save your game because here are my favourite all time OLD SCHOOL drinking game games.

No. 1- Mario Kart Drunk Driving

I thought I would kick this list off with my absolute favourite. Having been a huge fan of Mario Kart for about a million years, adding alcohol and friends was only going to improve it.

Picture taken from Michael Huang
under the CCA
What you need: An N64 (or a Wii/Gamecube if you're a little b**ch), lots of beer, a spirit of your choice and some friends.

How to play: The aim of the game is for each player to finish their beer by the time they finish the race. However, as we all know, drink driving is not only stupid, it's illegal. So!! You must not be moving whilst drinking.

Strategy: My strategy is to simply down my beer when the lights turn green. Although this proves you're L.A.D positive, you do lose time at the start.

Another very common tactic is to go hell-for-leather the whole race, park on the finishing line and chug your beer before inching over at the last second. A worthy tactic, but beware, a star or a blue-shell to another player can be disastrous. And if you're playing on the Wii, you better pray your opponents don't get one of those bloody Rocket-Shark things #sharknado.
Or, if you're the Socrates of your group, stop at regular intervals, drink some beer and then go again.

Forfeit: Oh, have I not mentioned the spirit of choice yet? Whoever loses does a shot. #fresher. Also, don't be Peach. Ever.

No. 2- GoldenEye- Shaken, not Stirred

This one was a gift from my friends at, The Warp Zone. Goldeneye is known as one of if not THE greatest multiplayer games of all time. So, it needed a suitable drinking game to live up to it. As I 'stole' it from them, I am going to let them explain it for you:

Enjoy! Oh, and if you choose to be Xenia..................You're hot. Drink!

No. 3- Street Fighter- Drinks are on Ryu

First off, see what I did there? Ryu........R-you? Whatever. Street Fighter was the first ever game I really got into, so it is only fitting I should let you into my Street Fighter drinking game world.

Picture taken from goodboys_977
under the CCA
What you need: Beer, lots of it. And some spirits. Sound familiar? God damn right it does! 'Cos we don't **** around when it comes to Street Fighter!
Oh, and an original Street Fighter game on the Super Nintendo would help as well.

How to play: Taking it back to basics. Simple 1 v 1 combat. Grab a beer, choose your character (whilst the other isn't looking) and let the battle commence! Whoever wins gets a congratulatory pat on the back in the form of a sip (glug) of beer. The loser, 3 sips/glugs.

Forfeits/side rules: If it is Ryu vs Ken, clink beers like brothers from other Mothers and see them off pre-match. If your opponent finishes you off with a special move, you know what to do - Spirit. Your opponent gets a 'perfect' on you? Well it's a shot for you Glen Co-Co! You Go Glen Co-Co!
Finally, if your opponent is Dhalsim and spends the whole match on the side swinging his elastic arms and legs at you or is Blanca and spends all match being electric, then you can make them drink whatever you want.

P.S. If you're Chun-Lee or Cammy......... Marry me.

This is a great one for adding new rules to as we all have our favorite characters/moves!!

I hope you enjoy playing these games and get you excited about Old School Gaming again! Even if it is only to drink! And please, if it is, drink responsibly!

How to Not Look Like a Wine Twat at Parties

Messrs Fountain and Bulmer - kindly providing an example of what
you should absolutely NOT do...
So if you work in the wine industry, you will have no doubt been in an out-of-work gathering at some point, with friends who don't particularly drink wine or certainly aren't wine geeks, where you have been happily slurping your vino, sticking your nose in the glass and making all sorts of weird tasting noises, before realising that everyone is looking at you.

The worst part is that you probably didn't even realise that you were doing it but the fact that you were practically using the stuff as mouth-wash (during that quiet part of the song that's on in the background) means that every other bugger in the room has noticed.

You are probably thinking something along the lines of "but if I want to enjoy the wine fully, I need to get air over it in my mouth and get it in contact with all parts of my palate". Although this is quite true, the sad fact is that you look like a total nob.

People hate a wine snob, and although you might not have even opened your mouth to voice your opinion on what you are drinking, people now have you down as one, whether you like it or not (if you do like it, then please stop reading now, you are a tool and there is no helping you).

I thought it might be handy to climb right up on my high-horse and give a few handy and friendly pointers on how to avoid ultimate Wine Twattery.

1. NO NOISES. As I just mentioned, when you are in a situation with folks who don't have a passion for plonk, don't swill and gargle and make sloppy, slurpy noises. Just fucking drink the stuff. You will sound like a tit and that spend the rest of your life being called things like Sloppy Joe...

2. NO NOSES. Take your nose out of the glass. Once or twice is acceptable but anything more than that and you will get weird looks. Once again, just fucking drink the stuff.

3. NO NOSTALGIA. Don't reminisce about that time you visited that vineyard and the wine that you are drinking at the moment reminds you about the second wine of the chateau, due to its balsamic notes and flirtatious mid-palate. People most likely won't appreciate hearing a tasting note for something that they have never heard of and don't care about. You will come off as a fuck-wit and members of the opposite sex will avoid you. And members of the same sex, for that matter.

4. NO PREACHING. The wine that other people at the party are drinking is totally fine. You don't have to drink it too, but you REALLY don't have to make a point of telling them how disgusting it is, because it's from a supermarket and their offers are not to be trusted and besides, at that price the juice is only worth a matter of pence... Just keep your mouth shut and have a beer instead. And yes, American lager is fine if you want friends: it is cold and wet and alcoholic.

5. NO TWEED. Quite simply, tweed has a right time and place. This is not it. If you are going to a wine tasting then by all means tweed it up like a warm-winter-motherfucker but otherwise, keep the tweed jacket and matching Y-fronts in the bedroom...

If you follow these five simple steps, then you have potential to not only be the coolest guy/gal at the party but also not come off as a totally pretentious, wine slurping, aroma sniffing, miserable, tweed-clad Wine Twat.

Sadly, I'm speaking from experience...

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Digital Drinking: Online Vintage Charts

Picking the right vintage isn't the most important factor in choosing a wine (a truly good producer will make good wine even in difficult years) but knowing your 'holy grails' from your 'wholly crap' years can come in handy.

This is especially true if you're on the lookout for something special, but even when it comes to everyday choices, it can be handy to know which years were particularly good (even if it just means you can drop 'oh, this was such a good vintage' into conversations over a glass, to make you look stuck-up super smart.)

But even the most seasoned wine nerd has trouble remembering every good recent vintage for every region or country, so it pays to know where to look, whether your memory just needs refreshing or you want to start making better-informed choices.

There are a multitude of publications and experts that demand you buy their books or pay a subscription to their site for this kind of info, but I've done some digging and found a fair few places you can get all this brilliant information for free! Here are the top resources:

1. Berry Brothers' Online Vintage Charts

There are so many reasons that Berry Bros just get their vintage chart SO RIGHT:

  • It goes back to 1978
  • Not only does it tell you if it's a good year, it tells you whether the wine is ready to drink/needs time/is way past its best
  • It is sleek and easy to use with a really obvious key
  • Each year/region is linked so, for instance, if you're looking for 2007 white Burgundy, it will take you to the ones they have in stock from that year.
  • IT INCLUDES THE NEW WORLD! No one else seems to think new world vintages are important...
  • It's completely up to date, even including 2013 vintage info where relevant (that's where the new world stuff comes in - their vintage was in April/May and is already on our shelves)
  • It's available on their iPhone app

2. The Wine Society's Vintage Chart

Think all of the above, and another sleek and easy-to-use resource, but with just a couple of differences:

1. They don't, unfortunately, include New World vintage information.
2. They do, however, have an Android app as well as an iPhone app - hooray!

Both BBR and The Wine Society have put a huge amount of time and effort into making something seriously handy, especially in app form, which means you can even get advice on a last-minute supermarket wine dash when you're trying to work out which bottle of Rioja or Chablis you should grab. Top marks to them both.

3. E-Robert Parker's Vintage Chart

From the big man of 'marking a wine out of 100' himself, you'd expect a pretty nifty vintage chart, and you won't be disappointed.

While it's not quite as user-friendly as BBR or The Wine Soc, it does tickle the fancy of those who like an extra-geeky dollop of detail in their vintage charts: it goes back to 1970 and splits the categories into much narrower fields.

 The Australia rankings, for instance (oh yes he does do New World - GO BOB!) are split into different regions (Barossa, New South Wales, Victoria) and in some cases rate specific grape varieties, and French regions like Bordeaux and Rhone are split into much finer appellations (Saint-Emilion and Pomerol, although side by side on the right bank of Bordeaux, each has its own score, which does help if you're looking for something specific.)

Also, in typical Robert Parker fashion, you get a score out of 100 (it's colour-coded, which makes it easy to scan along and find the good stuff) and anything under 59 is described as 'appalling'. It's quite fun to scroll through and find the 'appalling' vintages. 2002 Chateauneuf is a no-go.

4. The Telegraph's Interactive Vintage Chart

For pure megalolz and ultimate geekery, you can not get better than this. The Telegraph and Berry Brothers teamed up and very cleverly made an interactive vintage chart (it only covers French wine regions, I'm afraid) that means you can get all your wine smarts whilst having fun and looking at something pretty.

Not particularly practical if you need something on the go, but COME ON, it's an interactive wine chart. Interactive wine charts are cool.

Weekly Beer: Crowning Glory

Some weeks ago our good friend Matthew dropped a little factette in his Boozy Christmas Films piece that The Worlds End had had a special beer brewed specially for the film and as a celebration of the concluding chapter of the Blood and Ice Cream trilogy.

Well after many months, I've finally managed to get my lips around a few bottles! I'm surprised it's taken me this long seeing as the Tring Brewery is quite literally round the corner from where I work. I know! I'm slacking!

As I mentioned, Crowning Glory comes from the lovely folk over at Tring Brewery, the malt masterminds behind Sidepocket for a Toad and Ridgeway.

The first thing I notice about this beer is that it's 6.5%, so just by looking at the label I can tell it's going to be a bit of a powerhouse. It's deep bronze colour is characterised by strong aromas of caramel, toast and orange.

On the palate, its full bodied style instantly fills your mouth with orange zest and bitter lemon giving way to notes of caramel and sweet spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. The finish is a bittersweet symphony (HA! 90'S REFERENCE) of that ever present caramel and bitterness from the cascade hop. While this may be stronger than most beers, there's no excessive burn or salivation from the alcohol, which basically means you drink 4 and you're in trouble!

Crowning Glory is available from the on-site shop for £3 a bottle so if you're in the area, I urge you to pop in a grab a few of the offerings from Tring Brewery. Truly remarkable beer.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Break The Habit: Brilliant New Wines To Discover in 2014

Oh, it's so easy to get stuck in a wine rut, but let's not do that this year. Let's make this the year we drink better wine in smaller quantities, considering it with the same care as the artisan ingredients we splash out on and seasonal recipes we try out each week, and savouring every mouthful.

The thing is, there are so many wines to choose from - in supermarkets, independent shops and wine merchants - that it can be overwhelming, especially if you've never heard of half of them.

It's a bit like a bad relationship: because you're scared to move on, you keep going back to what's familiar, but bad for you, and inevitably unsatisfying. People tell you 'there's plenty more fish in the sea', but you don't know where to start, or which choice is really going to be good for you. So you stay with the same old disappointment.

But PUT THAT BIG BRAND MERLOT DOWN, RELINQUISH THAT MARLBOROUGH SAUVIGNON (unless it's a really good one) and ABANDON CHEAP CHARDONNAY. In doing so, you just punish yourself, and preventing yourself from being truly happy. In the words of your best gal pal: you can do better, babes. You ARE better than that.

Here are some wines to which you should open your heart this year.

Tesco Finest Frappato (£7.99)

Frappato is a Italian red grape variety that is mostly produced in Sicily. This example from Tesco has the characteristic cherry, strawberry and blackcurrant aromas mixed with a slight herbaceous quality and a touch of spice. It's pretty light with juicy acidity - the perfect accompaniment to a lovely oily tomato dish. An easy-drinking red with its own character - a must-try for mid-week suppers.

Contesa Pecorino (Majestic, £9.99, or currently £7.99 when you buy two)

A good sign of a new wine worth trying is one that all the supermarkets are desperate to stock. We told you about a brilliant Tesco Pecorino last week (and have since been told the Sainsbury's Taste The Difference one is also marvellous - thanks Lucienne Simpson on Twitter!) and Majestic have a sublime example of this Italian white grape variety.

Contesa Pecorino is soft and citrussy with orange blossom hints and added complexity from a smidgen of oak ageing. Grab a bottle next time you're rustling up some seafood.

La Puerta Bonarda (Marks and Spencer, £43.96 for six, was £65.94. That's equivalent to £7.33 a bottle.)

I told you about bonarda last year and it's still slowly seeping into the supermarkets. This one, from M&S, is a super-fruity red - think blueberry and raspberry - with a smooth texture. And it's on offer at the moment, so there's no better time to give it a try. Especially if you're planning on sausages any time soon. (I'm always planning on sausages.)

Tesco Finest Viognier-Marsanne-Roussanne (£8.99)

Occasionally, Tesco Finest wines can be characteristic but maybe a teensy bit on the bland side, but not this. It's made by the legend that is d'Arenberg, and they know a thing or two about blending white grape varieties, but it's the viognier in this that made me giddy with happiness. It's a fresh, juicy, tropical wine that's full of flavour - equally sip-worthy on its own as it is with shellfish or a fruity chicken dish. One to have on standby - especially on Mondays in need of brightening.

Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Languedoc 2012 (currently on offer at £5.99, was £7.99)

Saino's just get it right with this one. Languedoc wines can be mistaken for cheap, unimpressive things you don't share with people you want to impress, but this is too good to keep to yourself (and will probably make you think you should buy a whole lot more Languedoc wine).

A blend of grenache, syrah and carignan, it's deceptively easy to drink for 14% abv, and bursting with dark fruit flavour. It doesn't get all up in your grill, though, it's smooth and silky too. Crazy-good for the price.

Tesco Finest Slovenian Sauvignon Furmint, (currently £5.99, normally £7.99)

Slovenia is one of those European wine-producing countries that doesn't get enough credit. As such, you'll find good value here if you look in the right places.

This is a crisp, zesty wine with apple, lime peel and pear drops, which gives it a simple likeability. Sharp and refreshing like a good Sauvignon Blanc should be, and after a while in the glass it develops another dimension of melon, lychee and orange rind. The intense acidity softens and the wine becomes fuller and smoother on the palate. Perfect match for white fish and Thai food.

Massaya Classic (£11.50, The Wine Society)

Like the Taste the Difference Languedoc, it's not always about new grapes, but new regions. If you stick to the roads most travelled, you'll too often end up paying more for reputation than quality, so find examples of the wines you like from further afield.

Having been producing wine for centuries, Lebanon is no newcomer to wine (or indeed wine geeks - we've been harping on about Musar for yonks) but if you haven't tried Massaya, you're seriously missing out. 60% cinsault (a grape with which southern French wine fans will be all too familiar) with 20% each of cabernet and syrah, it's one of those wines that pleases with every mouthful. Vibrant and fruity, with a deep, lasting flavour, it's an 'Oops! Where did that bottle disappear to?' wine.

So go on then, what are you looking forward to trying? Give us all your top tips in the comments...

Awesommelier: My MW Boot Camp Experience

Today my day began at 8:30 am when I sat down at my desk, turned over an examination paper and started to taste the 12 glasses of wine set up in front of me. This is my 6th day at the Master of Wine Residential camp in Rust, Austria and my 5th tasting paper of the week.

The Master of Wine programme is often described as the hardest professional qualification in the world. Just over 300 qualified Masters of Wine (MWs) exist from all over the world and all sorts of areas of the wine business. The exams are notoriously strenuous, demanding incredibly detailed knowledge of Viticulture, Vinification, Marketing, Legislation, Distribution and every else in between for all wine making countries. Naturally there is also a fair amount of consumption, with 3 tasting papers covering everything from Sauvignon Blanc to Sweeties.

Why am I doing it then? I think I've asked myself that every day that I have been here.

I love wine, I suppose, and I want to have greater knowledge and experience of it. I also work in wine, and know it will be career for the rest of my working life, so it pays to be as qualified as possible. Being an MW is incredibly prestigious given the scarcity of qualified ones and are seen as the absolute authorities on the subject.

It's also a fabulous networking opportunity; I have been taught this week by the head of wine policy for the European Union, a Quality Control expert for a major bulk wine distributor, an incredibly known wine writer amongst a host of the best in the industry. Additionally it gives me an opportunity to bond with my colleagues in the wine trade, as our jobs can often be quite isolated. On the course we have winemakers, journalists, brokers, educators, retailers, sommeliers and then in the corner there is me as a wholesaler feeling utterly overwhelmed.

Lectures have been diverse, we've had market updates from mature and emerging markets, lectures on Quality Control and Assurance (honestly not as dry as any of us were expecting), the views of the business from the Austria Wine Marketing Board and a whole host of amazing wines, naturally.

Tasting wines at 8:30 every morning for 2 hours 15 minutes is important, because your palate is freshest then, though we all balked slightly at the first flight of reds just after breakfast.

It's quite a journey, and in the coming months I will be writing about the process for Vinspire as I make my way through the exams, trips, tastings and experiences of being the run of the MW litter.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Friday Cocktail: The Boulevardier

New year, new cocktails.

I'm breaking out of my cocktail comfort zone thanks to the multitude of mixology gifts my lovely family bought me, and I'm already liking what I'm learning.

This week, I'm going for a twist on the classics that's sort of like the mongrel lovechild of the negroni and the manhattan: The Boulevardier. Apparently it's named after a Parisian magazine, whose owner invented it in the 1920s.

Made using bourbon (so what's not to love?) this is a complex, warming blend of the sour, the sweet and the saucy, and it's completely perfect for sipping on dark, chilly January Friday nights by candlelight, all cosy.

Traditionally there's more bitters in it than this, but I think this ratio gives better balance and makes this super smooth and satisfying.

The Boulevardier Cocktail recipe (serves one)


2 shots bourbon
1 shot sweet vermouth
1 shot campari bitters
Maraschino cherry or orange peel, to garnish

Shake it!

1. Pour the bourbon, vermouth and campari into a tall glass or cocktail shaker filled with ice.
2. Give it a good stir.
3. Strain into a champagne saucer or martini glass.
4. Garnish with a cherry or some orange peel, if you fancy.

What twists on cocktail classics tickles your tastebuds? Tell us in the comments!

Image taken from gingerchrismc's photostream under the CCL.

Tesco's Finest Pecorino

I'll do my best to not make this to cheesy (*snort* god, I'm awful).

Basically, I've been drinking Tesco's Finest Pecorino - and yes I mean the wine and not the cheese. It's surprisingly pretty bloody good.

Pecorino is a grape variety that is native to Italy (as well as a tasty cheese. Did I mention it's a cheese?) that is believed to have evolved from wild vines in the country. There are now about 87 hectares of Pecorino throughout Italy, most notably in Marche, Abruzzo, Tuscany and Umbria, although there are many other Pecorino-growing areas too.

Tesco's Finest Pecorino comes from Abruzzo, a region arguably most famous for its red wine -  Montepulciano d'Abruzzo - however the whites from Abruzzo are rapidly growing in popularity.

I'm not normally one to buy wine regularly from most of the supermarkets and Tesco wouldn't always be my first choice, so I really was surprised at just how truly pleasant this white is.

It has a nice, upfront nose of lime, stone fruit and flint, already much more complexity than I would have expected. As soon as I tasted it, I knew that it is an incredibly easy-drinking wine. In fact, it's so charming it would be far too easy to drink two whole bottles without realising and end up throwing up on your shoes... but, you know, let's not do that. Ever.

The palate is very pleasant, with a zippy, refreshing acidity but also surprisingly full texture. The lime flavours continue through but are joined by lemon, pear drops and peach. This is a very upfront style, not exactly bursting with complexity, but if you're looking to expand your selection of everyday wines then you should seriously try this up-and-coming grape variety.

Tesco Finest Pecorino is available from Tesco (coincidence? I think not!) for £7.99 per bottle. It is certainly worth trying, as Pecorino is not a variety that is familiar to everybody and it does mean you can make cheese jokes to your friends when you are drinking it (they hate you anyway, you have nothing to lose. Just me? Oh...)

There'll be more Tesco Finest wines mentioned early next week, with some surprising new contenders that are joining our 'everyday failsafes' list...

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Amon-Ra 2004 Glaetzer Shiraz

I have always been a huge fan of Australian Shiraz, especially those from the Barossa Valley. Located in South East Australia, approximately 60km North of Adelaide, Barossa is famous for its red wines. In particular, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. It is also host of one of Australia's most famous wineries, Penfolds.

Picture taken from je245 under the
Creative Commons License
However, one of the major 'up and coming stars' of the area is Ben Glaetzer and his small yet quality packed range of red wines with their mythological, beautiful and minimalist labels. The Amon-Ra (Egyptian King of all God's) is their signature wine, their top dog, their 'Godly wine' if you will.

My Father has been a fan of his wines for a while now and has been harbouring a few bottles in his collection for about 6 years. One of these was the Amon-Ra 2004. Known as a good vintage for Glaetzer, you can understand that we had been looking forward to cracking this open for quite a while.

We felt it was ready to drink over Christmas, so we cracked it open over the Turkey dinner alongside a 2001 Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Although the Chateauneuf was a worthy adversary, there was one clear winner on the day.

Taken from 105-115 year old Shiraz Vines, the grapes go through primary and malolactic fermentation in oak before a 15 month maturation process on the lees all in 100% new oak barrels.

The wine, by nature, begins full of intense plum fruit character, hard, grippy tannins and a beautifully deep, vibrant black/purple colour. With this in mind, we knew that this wine would develop well in bottle and with all of the processes the wine had been through, would soften, maintain its fruity character and combine brilliantly with the new oak 10 years down the line.

It is safe to say we weren't disappointed. Although still deep and full in the glass, the nose is predominantly vanilla, plum and that typical cedar oak character. The palate was stunning. Silky smooth tannin's, plum, tobacco, chocolate and cedar are all detected, but in perfect balance. There is nothing to overpower the wine, all flavours and tertiary characteristics combining to make a refined, delicate and elegant wine.

Although this wine could have aged slightly longer, we caught it just right. Despite loving young, full, punchy wines from South America, I always believe top quality wines from Australia should be left to age. The ripeness of the grapes and intensity of flavours although delicious, can be overwhelming to begin with. And if you're a fan of oak character, an extra 2-3 years in bottle can make all the difference.

Although not difficult to get hold of, Ben's wines sadly don't come cheap. And as the Amon-Ra is his signature wine, you're looking at spending £50 per bottle minimum from most retailers (mainly the Enotria Group). And that is just for the newer vintages (although the 2012 is supposed to be one of his best yet). However, if you're lucky enough to be a member of The Wine Society (can you tell I work for them?), you can get the 2012 at £45 per bottle.
Picture taken from Matt Kane under
the Creative Commons License

If that is still past the limit, which I understand, Ben does have three other wines to try: Anaperenna, Bishop and Wallace. Despite still not being 'cheap', they are fantastic wines and just as easy to obtain.

This really is one of my favourite wines and certainly one of the finest I have ever tried. So if you're looking for a quality Aussie drop that is going to age brilliantly and you don't want to splash out crazy money on Penfold's Grange, this is the one for you.