Friday, 28 February 2014

Friday Cocktail: OMFG, Disney Cocktails!

As the title suggests, this blog post may quite possibly blow your mind. We just wish we could take credit for it.

Now, we love concocting our own cocktails, but Cocktails by Cody takes it to a whole new level of awesome, and we're 100% sure you'll agree.

Cody is a mixologist extraordinaire based in Washington, USA. He only joined Facebook in January 2014 and he already has over 21,000 fans. Why? BECAUSE HE MAKES DISNEY COCKTAILS.

And they are every bit as amazing as they sound. At the time of writing this, he's currently uploaded around 20, from as far back as The Little Mermaid and Alice in Wonderland right up to a cocktail based on Frozen, Disney's latest release.

It's not just the idea, it's the execution: the cocktails LOOK the part, but the ingredients are also basically perfect illustrations of the character's personality. Let's take a look at a few of my absolute favourites:

Fools Gold - The Pocahontas Cocktail

Fools Gold is of course the ideal name for a cocktail based on the pompous Ratcliffe in Pocahontas. As well as being the rich reddish purple of his outfit, it's got rich and gluttonous ingredients like merlot and chambord. Delicious, and especially fun to sip while watching this and giggling. A lot:

Disney Trivia: Did you know Ratcliffe and Wiggins were voiced by the SAME MAN?!

The Glass Slipper - The Cinderella Cocktail

Perfect in its simplicity, and the girliest of drinks despite being baby-boy blue. You can buy whipped cream vodka in the UK via Urban Drinks, but it'll set you back £38.50, so we'd probably recommend settling for a vanilla vodka instead. The evil stepmother is also very tempting, with dark, rich flavours and a hint of chocolate.

After a couple of these, I'll definitely be singing this:

Royal Vizier - The Aladdin Cocktail

I just love that Cody made this Jafar-themed cocktail super-tall, it's genius. A sleek, exotic drink with a potent kick, it will leave you as hypnotised as his creepy snake sceptre:

Porcelain Warrior and a Mushu shot - The Mulan Cocktails

Gorgeous east-asian flavours in a delicately beautiful formation - the perfect Mulan cocktail. And the fiery mushu shot packs an amusing punch just like him:

Seeing Spots - The 101 Dalmatians Cocktail

I'm finishing on an evil high with a feisty, glamourous, bitch-slap of a cocktail that is perfectly Cruella de Vil (best Disney name ever, by the way.) It blends the tartness of raspberry with the deep indulgence of chocolate and cream - as over-indulgent as a coat made of puppies.

And now for a brilliant car crash:

Cody very kindly given us permission to write about him and show you some of what he does, but you really must follow him on Facebook to keep track of his progress because he's adding new creations every week and they are MAAAAJOR.

Which would be your Disney cocktail of choice? What is he missing? Let us know in the comments!

Do We Pay Too Much Attention to Wine Trends?

-By Andrew Slowe

One of the things that never ceased to garner my interest during my years of working in the 'on-trade' was trends. I was constantly fascinated by the speed and ferocity of some and the careful plod of others, and always enjoyed the progression and inevitable decline.

Now it's a far distant memory, and will more than likely become little more than legend, but there was a time when trends didn't develop overnight. It took time for the 'new' to filter down the social pyramid before becoming the next big thing. But times have changed (or progressed?) and now this careful drip-drip dissemination of information is expedited by the social media tidal wave we're all under. What took days and months now takes just hours if not minutes. So my question is are we giving these trends enough time to develop before we move onto the next big thing? Or do we set too much store by them?

Trends help people make informed decisions, granted. But careful marketing can make anything seem like the 'right' decision in a world that everyone thinks they know but mostly is too vast, diverse and subjective. If we consider some recent trends - fruit based cider, blush and over sweet rosé's, local craft beer and the fascination in provenance and locality, the domination of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay before that - each had it's own merits to a greater or lesser extent and had a greater or lesser impact on the consumers they targeted/ are targeting. They made what is largely an ignorant consumer seem knowledgeable, exciting, adventurous and cool.

But what do we as consumers know about the decisions we're happy to have made for us? What do we know about these ‘informed’ decisions? Fashion has dictated that regardless, you have to be seen in the right place, with the right people, enjoying the right product but surely the actual enjoyment comes... yes from the product, but also from the adventure, from the discovery, from the knowledge that you found something that you like that you want to explore further and share with people.

If we take the recent popular predilection for NZ Sauv Blanc, which has helped many people make a decision when scouring the local supermarket wine shelves. Sure, you largely know what you're going to be getting when you pick up a bottle of Oyster Bay or Waira Cove or Villa Maria. Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc has pretty much become a brand akin to Coca-Cola or a McDonalds. You've tasted it before and you know it will taste the same again. These wines are fresh and easy drinking with generally light citrus and herbaceous notes, not too much complexity and a pretty clean finish. Fine. That's what you wanted when you bought it but surely it doubles as a stepping stone? A gateway drug. An introduction into the world of Sauvignon Blanc-based wines. 

And there's a wealth of difference to be explored. The fantastic nuances to be had in different regions and the excitement of something that is so fundamental and yet so different. Why not try Sancerre with its steely minerality; Pouilly Fume from down the road with its classically flinty acidity and freshness; Sauvignon-Semillon blends bring stone fruit flavours and body to the mix and the possibility for some oak ageing; or Sauternes and Barsac where it contributes to some of the most famous and long-lived sweet wines. 

Then we have it’s supporting cast; Verdejo in Spain; Fallanghina from Italy (yes, an interesting Italian white wine!); or perhaps a Chablis from Burgundy which is as crisp and clean - and, dare I say it, Chardonnay-based, for those that weren't aware. 

This is the most exciting thing a trend has to offer - and this is one of the huge benefits this developing digital age has to offer - the go-ahead to try and explore something new that you might not otherwise have been introduced to. Not something to have a passing enjoyment of and to be disregarded at the first sign of the new 'What next?'. 

We have a wealth of information at our fingertips. We have the capacity to find so much more than we did 10 -15 years ago. Yet we are choosing less and less to make our own decisions; to investigate, leaving this instead to the advertisers and media outlets. 

With so many different products challenging for our attention is there time to make our own informed choices? We're happy to have certain decisions made for us because it saves us the energy of deciding for ourselves. The weight of information we are under day-to-day makes it necessary to filter. Taste has always been subjective, yet all of a sudden our tastes are dictated by what we're told we are meant to like. 

Is it more important for us to have as little information about as many things as possible without the opportunity for discovery? Have we left the excitement and the freedom of our own choices to others, for ease and convenience, and in order not to look different or stand out? Do we make drinking choices just to be seen to fit in? There is something very wrong if the answer to these questions is yes. I think it's time we started ignoring the familiar and the safe, and started picking a bottle precisely because we HAVEN'T heard of it.

Images, from top to bottom, taken from the photostreams of francois, Mary Hutchison and Roanish under the Creative Commons License

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Have You Read Tequila Mockingbird? Here's Why You Should

This week I have learnt two things: one, I need to purchase more cocktail glasses and two, I need to expand my classic reading repertoire. Why? I literary (see what I did there?) have fallen cover over page in love with the newest book to my collection - Tequila Mockingbird, Cocktails with a Literary Twist. Scholarly sips for word nerds and a library of literature inspired cocktails is how author Tim Federle introduces this modern classic, and with 65 recipes, there's something for everyone.

Naturally, I now want to make every cocktail in this classy little book and I have added about fifteen books to my 'must read list' as with the turn of each page comes another literary classic which I haven't yet got round to reading.

Divided into Drinks for Dames, Gulps for Guys, Bevvies for Book Clubs, Refreshments for Recovering Reads, Bar Bites for Book Hounds and Games for Geeks, you would be hard-pressed to find not one page to inspire you. The three T's - Tools, Techniques and Terms - are a good introduction for even the most novice of cocktail mixologists and the handy metric conversion table at the back is super handy if you're not a lover of fluid ounce measurements (like my good self).

Having cautiously prized a wine glass from my grip over the last couple of months, I've been spreading my alcoholic beverage wings and testing the cocktail waters. Last night - yes, on a school night - my new hardcover best friend taught me how to make Love in the Time of Kaluha.

If you're a book worm you'll realise that Love in the Time of Kaluha is inspired by Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. A sentimental story about the enduring power of true love - guy and girl fall in love, girl marries someone else, guy gets on with it but waits 50 years until she returns to him - Federle has combined the sweetness of love and the spice of lust in this creamy concoction. It's super easy to make (no blenders or shakers involved) and delicious - though I was hesitant with all the cream (not for you if you're counting the calories!). Here's how it goes:

You'll need...

1 measure light rum (I used Bacardi)
1/2 measure coffee liqueur (like Kaluha, but I'll admit I used a cheaper brand)
2 measures light cream
Grated nutmeg or ground cinnamon to taste
Tumbler/low-ball glass

How to...

Combine rum and coffee liqueur over ice in a tumbler.
Pour the cream on top and sprinkle with the spice.
Sip and enjoy - I nibbled on Amaretti biscuits with mine!

Next on the list to try? Rye and Prejudice, Are You There God? It's Me Margarita, Gone With the Wine and The Adventures of Sherbert Holmes...not sure I'm ready for the leading Tequila Mockingbird - a shot of tequila with hot sauce and a dill pickle to chase!

For any cocktail enthusiast or word nerd this is a treat to delight the senses, and for those who are both (Laura, our Vinspire Editor, I'm thinking of you) this must find its way onto your bookshelf - if you can bear to put it down! It's available at The Book People for £7.49.

Looking for more literary drinking inspiration? Check out our Literary Drinking page on Pinterest for the drinks that appeared in your favourite books as well as cocktails and products based on your favourite reads.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Off The Beaten Track: Doorly's X.O. Barbados Rum

Having been battered by wind and rain for what seems like an eternity, the clouds seem to be dissipating slightly... he says, tempting Neptune to take dominion over the entire British Isles. There has been some legitimate sun over the past two weeks for short intervals and so, in my naivety, I have started looking forward to summer.

Firstly I began thinking about Moscato D'asti, in a typical example of masculinity, but felt that I might be getting a little ahead of myself, and so began looking around for a rum that I hadn't tried before.

I didn't venture particularly far, picking up a bottle of Doorly's X.O. from The Wine Society (but this rum is also available to order from Master of Malt for £25, I was just impatient). I chose it because it's one that I have vaguely heard about, but one that doesn't really have widespread popularity, as it's not available to buy at many UK retailers.

 Doorly's is a dark Barbadian rum that is distilled and bottled by R.L. Seales (whose 10yr rum I have reviewed in the past), and it is also finished in Oloroso sherry casks. Again, this is a familiar trait in whiskies I have tried, but is quite novel (as far as I'm aware) for a rum. There is a entry level Doorly's available, however the X.O. is made from a selection of 6-15 year rums, and is meant to be vastly superior.

On the nose there is a ton of dried, spiced fruit, almost like having let raisins soak in rum for a day with some cinnamon chucked in. Then the pineapple begins to surface with some spiced apple, orange peel and caramel with the lightest smoke if you delve a little. Doorly's has a wonderfully supple, rich and inviting aroma, and there is a lot to get out of it if you give it the chance. It doesn't hit you right away, but a little time investment will yield quite a lot.

On the palate the sherry influence is more apparent, with a slightly drier nature than you might be used to, and than is alluded to by the nose. There is more rich berry fruit, with nuts, very light caramel, tobacco, orange peel and on the finish there's pepper and smoke.

The finish is a little short, but the overall flavour is fantastic and not at all like the other rums at this price point. I've read other's thoughts on this rum who say that they would mistake it for a whisky - personally, I feel like this may be a bit much, however I can fully appreciate where they're coming from. I feel that this is another rum that can be drunk neat, however would also be a great mixing rum with a little added complexity, and without the overbearing sweetness of lots of other rums.

This rum is so different from it's direct competitors and is really rewarding to explore. It may not be as approachable as lots of other rums from Barbados, but there are nuances that I just haven't experienced elsewhere. As is says on the label: "There are rums for those who know and then there is Doorly's X.O. ... for those who know better!"

Doorly's X.O. is available from The Wine Society for £27 or Master of Malt for £25

Wine Stereotypes Vol 2: The Common Consumer

A while ago now, I wrote a piece about different stereotypes within the wine industry and lets face it, everyone who works in wine knows someone who fits the bill exactly.
I thought it was about time that we turn the tables a little bit though and shine a light on some consumer stereotypes instead. If you work in a wine job where you are public-facing, you will know the types, or you might even be one yourself, who knows!? (Me. I know.)

Either way, if you are one of these people, you need to reconsider everything you have been doing in your life and if you are not one of these people but know someone who is, you have every right to stand and laugh in their face, because quite simply, they suck.

Johnny Scores

Is a blithering idiot. Poor old Johnny has much more money than sense, he follows His Royal Godness
Sir Robert Parker and hangs off every word he says.
Johnny never particularly knew much about wine and didn't really take the time to learn. However, when he realised that the ladies love a sophisticated wine man (hello ladies), he thought that if he was ever going to be a hit with the opposite sex, a bottle of something expensive and that makes him look like a conosseuir (I hate that word so very much), would be the way forward.
Because Johnny is unable to think for himself, he believes that the more expensive a bottle, the better it is. If Parker has given it a score in the high 90s then its probably the best wine in the world.
If you served Johnny a glass of cheap chilean Merlot and told him The Wine Advocate had scored it 99/100 - Good old Johnny Scores would pay £1000 for a case. Idiot.

"I swear it was this big..."
Linda and her Ladies Who 'Lunch'

Linda comes accross as a pretty well-to-do type and is married to a hard-working chap who has an office job in the city. When hubby is at work and the three kids are away at boarding school, Linda has her ladies round. In the summer, they sit out on the veranda and drink. And my god, do they drink. If it's pink and in the region of £8-10 per bottle, Linda will knock it back faster than you can say "Plonk". Does she care what it is? Well, no, obviously, as long as the name is a bit recognisable and the label has flowers on it.

The ladies have an elegant salad for lunch because they are all body-conscious "Yummy Mummy" types (the fact they'll be consuming about 4000 calories in wine is neither here nor there). They start off by with light chit-chat about their children's schools, local issues (gossip) and shoes... Then the wine starts flowing. By the 5th bottle, the conversation has descended to talking about the size of "Stuart's pork-sword". (he's a butcher, come on guys... a butcher with a 12" pork sword.)

Your imaginary wife isn't
coming back, Andy.
Andy Anorak

Andy is a geek, plain and simple. He knows quite a lot about wine but he has a strange range of knowledge. e.g. you tell him a Chateau and he will tell you where it sits in the 1855 Bordeaux Classification, however he doesn't correctly pronounce "Carménère". Andy is the sort of chap who goes into a wine shop, with a list of painfully specific wines from particular vintages (he says he has a wife but nobody has ever seen her) and then gets increasingly annoyed as you tell him that you haven't stocked two thirds of them for a few years now. One thing to remember, Andy doesn't like vintage changes.
Not particularly socially aware, Andy can't understand why you would take a nice bottle of wine to a party, where it would be wasted on people who won't analyse it.
Andy is a strange, awkward and misses the point of wine.

Mary Contrary

Mary is a simple character, probably from the North of England somewhere. She is in her 60s and is that repeat customer, who has drunk the same red and white wine since records began.
The thing with Mary is that she always asks to speak to a wine adviser. This would usually be fine, however Mary is very specific. This week, she is cooking a dish with black pudding and prawns and wants a wine that will match it perfectly. Fair enough so far, its not the easiest one but it can be done. Mr Wine Adviser goes to a lot of time and effort to find a few wines that would do the trick, even arranging a tasting for her to try them. After all is said and done though, Mary goes for the House Chilean Red and White, like she does every god damn time...

Dave The Wine Investor

Dave is a pushy character and is looking to make money, plain and
You have books growing out of your head Dave,
you look like an idiot.
simple. Although he claims he loves wine, he will buy large volumes of first growth Bordeaux and top-notch Burgundy and only open something half decent when it's his son's 21st. The rest, he only buys to store in a cellar until it's quadrupled in value about five times, after which he sells it to make a whole lot more money, which he will use to buy more wine he 'loves' but never drinks.

As a customer, he wants a crazy deal (even though he's more loaded than a Kardashian), he only wants to buy his wine in bond, and will expect you to knock off every little extra charge that you can and will still tell you that "Berry Brothers are doing this wine much cheaper you know". You may feel like telling him to sod off to them then and leave you in peace to drink your coffee, but there is an order for £7000 on your books that you don't want to lose out on, and he knows that.

Dave is a family man who doesn't have much time for his family. He inherited a lot of money and has always been pretty comfortable. The idea of missing out on a good vintage of Bordeaux En Primeur keeps him awake at night and his wife has just about had enough but he is too wealthy for her to want to walk out on him.

We all know these people, you better just hope you aren't one of them...

Photos taken from the following photostreams under the creative commons license:
HeatheronhertravelsDavid Kingsbury (Woot Design)Hing Ang Photographydjtracker0Passive Income Dream.comserzhile - NONE of these photos are meant to represent directly the 'wine types' in question. It's just stock photography they've kindly allowed us to use for free, guys. Be nice.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Eggs Are Not The Enemy: A Few Facts About Egg Cocktails You Should Know

So this week the sun shone for a whole eight seconds in Manchester and I was just gearing up to talk about drinks for spring.  Unfortunately before I had found my stride I was drawn once again into a lengthy debate about the use of eggs in bars.

This is by no means a new thing.  I have spent many painful hours over the years explaining to customers how use of egg in cocktails is perfectly safe and indeed essential in certain cases.  So here is a few interesting facts to shed some light on a much misunderstood ingredient;

Why use egg in the first place?

The main reason we use eggs in mixed drinks is to change the texture or ‘mouth-feel’ of a drink. Egg white is essentially just protein that, when shaken, particularly under the differing pH conditions attained from the citric acid in fruit juice, stabilizes and binds air into the liquid. This creates not only a very appealing foam but also a smooth, silky and more viscous mouth feel that can be very appealing with certain flavours.

Egg Yolks can be used in the same way and thick and creamy texture to classic drinks like 'flips' used in conjunction with sweeter flavours and often cream.  These drinks are some of the oldest mixed drinks in existence, easily pre-dating the martini or sazerac.

Differing Opinions

Not all people in the industry, however, feel that this is the case.  In a recent BBC online interview Alessandro Palazzi, head barman at the Dukes Bar in London, claimed that “…people use them to hide the taste of cheap, bad ingredients...The only difference is the longevity of the froth. If you know how to shake a cocktail properly and use the right ingredients you can create the same effect.”

I will say about the first point that I do not think the use of egg will hide bad flavours. It may help smooth and emulsify certain flavours together, but it wont hide bad craft. I certainly can’t think of a bar-person that would use egg in that way to mask a poorly balanced drink.

As to the second claim, I am open to persuasion. As I enjoy egg in drinks, I haven’t tried many drinks normally requiring egg without its inclusion. Certainly I can see sours could be just as tasty, possibly the lack off protein allowing for a tangier drink. I will say though that I’m am incredibly skeptical that certain drinks that rely on egg can be satisfactorily re-created. A flip without egg yolk is basically just an Alexander and I can’t imagine a Ramos Fizz having that same silky mouth feel or beautiful frothy finish.

Should We Worry?

The risk that concerns people with the use of unpasteurized egg is the chance of contracting salmonella.  The fact of the matter however is that as about 90% of our eggs are Lion stamped.  Even without this declaration of safety cases of salmonella are incredibly rare and are much more likely to affect children, the elderly and those expecting a child.

I’m guessing young children don’t drink a lot of cocktails. As for pregnant women I would say I would be more concerned about the alcohol content than the egg in a cocktail she might order. Although I would certainly advise caution in this instance.

While there is a small risk when using ingredients the same it could be argued that eggs in drinks is no more hazardous than allowing a child to lick a bowl of raw cake mix.
Here's a recipe for the Ramos fizz; an incredible classic that uses egg to give it the texture of cloud, or so it is said.

Image from Stuart Webster's photostream under
the CCL.
Ramos Gin Fizz (serves one)

Combine in a Shaker:

  • 50ml Jensons Old Tom Gin
  • 25ml double cream
  • 1 egg white
  • 25ml sugar syrup (or two tea spoons of superfine castor sugar)
  • 12.5ml Lemon Juice
  • 12.5ml Lime Juice
  • 1 drop vanilla extract
  • 10 drops orange blossom water (be careful with this, too much and the drink will taste like soap!)

Shake it!

1. This lot needs to be shaken really hard.  I mean REALLY hard for as long as your arms can take.  Shake with only a couple of ice cubes to start with as it will control dilution and act as a whisk for the other ingredients.

2. Once a lovely frothy texture arrives add a splash of soda (no more than 25ml) and strain into a highball glass.

Are you still put off by egg whites in cocktails? Why/why not? Tell us in the comments!

Top collage taken from PV KS's photostream (top), and (left to right) Two Helmets Cooking, rick and Lindblom's photostreams, all under the Creative Commons License. 

Tuesday Beer: Three Brewers of St Albans

It's beer o'clock again! Well strictly speaking it's half past 10 but as long as it's past 5 somewhere, then it's beer o'clock! long as it's...screw it, it's always beer time! This week on Tuesday beer it's the turn of local enthusiasts, Three Brewers of St Albans.

They say all the best things these days are 'locally sourced'. In this case, I couldn't agree more. Just 20 minutes down the road from me lies a farm on the outskirts of St Albans where three gents have set out on an adventure to create excellence. Vinspire were lucky enough to be invited to the hub of the action to get a taste of what Three Brewers are all about.

On a working farm, Mark, Pete and Nick have spent the last year choosing local ingredients, including water from their own Hertfordshire Borehole, to make a beer that they hope Hertfordshire folk can be proud of. United by love for all things malty and hoppy and generally a bit bored with the local beer scene, these three chaps decided that the best thing to do was brew their own. Me being the lucky so-and-so that I am, got to taste their offerings, including the super secret work in progress that I could tell you about but I'd have to kill you.

Many breweries will attempt to over-stretch themselves from the off, brewing IPA's, golden ales, dark ales, stouts and all manner of beers. Unfortunately this can often lead to poor quality due to the divided attention. After much trial and error and the sad sight of beer going down the drain, Three Brewers have poured their collective heart and soul into two marvellous brews; The Classic and the Golden.

The Classic English Ale is just what it says on the tin. It's hoppy aromas and rich malty taste make it a refreshingly clean beverage that's perfect in whatever setting you may choose.

With Spring just around the corner (honestly I've seen it, there's been sun and everything) the Golden ale is ideal for the warmers days. Made with Cascade hops and Cara malts, this slightly sweeter brew is refreshing and uplifting.

Three Brewers is popping up in pubs all over the place and is also available from the St Albans branch of Cellar Door Wines. Follow the brewery (@3brewers) on twitter to find out where you can get your grubby little mitts on a pint.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Weinert Carrascal 2008: All of the Blend with None of the Bland

I have been meaning to try this wine for quite a while now as a number of friends have mentioned how good it is. Having let it slip under my vino-dar for so long I knew it was time to jump in.

After reading the blurb, you start to realise why this wine is talked up so much. A blend of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot aged in oak casks for 24 months, you expect a complex, structured and succulent wine. Sounds pretty delicious so far.

Produced in Carrascal just outside Mendoza in Argentina, this town has been famous for its wine for quite a while, having risen to fame in the 19th Century for producing clay amphora's usually seen in the arms of a Roman Goddess.

In the glass, you'll see a deep ruby fading to a clear pink rim. Surprise surprise. The nose is one of dark plum, raisins, leather and just a touch of vanilla. Almost every time you put your nose towards it the flavours are coming at you, sitting down, and saying hi before making way for the next. Reminiscent of the evening I spent speed-dating on Valentine's day last week. We can safely say, however, that this is far more successful.

The palate is rich and unctuous with plenty of ripe fruits and a touch of tobacco box. It then moves through licorice, nutmeg and just a dash of black pepper - a brilliant mix of savory and sweet. The tannins are polite and well-mannered, letting you know they're there, but never interrupting. Again the flavours and sensations continue to change. Going from full and slightly extrovert to start with to soft, smooth and shy once allowed to really open up in the glass.

Although fantastic on its own I can't help but think this would have been even better with the game pie I'd scoffed down in a pub an hour earlier. Shame. But then again, this wine makes a fantastic centre piece for the evening and its amazing complexity shouldn't be quelled by anything else. Not for the first bottle anyway.

Just when you think it can't get any better, we haven't even discussed price yet. At only £7.95 from The Wine Society (you have to join as a member to order) or £8.50 for the 2007 vintage from Tanners, this is by far the most complicated, enticing and seductive wine I have tried under £10 for a very long time. Certainly if you're looking for a New World alternative to a Bordeaux or Rioja it really doesn't get much better. Even more exciting is how good it will be in a couple more years in bottle. Staggeringly good quality and one to try!

P.S. I didn't really do speed dating on Valentines day. God.

Marvellous Mugs: The Anti-Work Mug

Happy Monday morning, readers! I hope you had a wonderful weekend? It's only five days until the next one...

When it comes to making a brew, I'm normally more for the flowery, uber-pretty, or 'there may be wine in here' varieties, rather than the more... well, mug-like mugs.

But when I saw this particular mug on Firebox last week, (it just so happened to be on a Sunday night, which helped) I barked with laughter so hard I couldn't resist it.

The 'I can't come to work today' mug is so silly and funny that it will brighten up even the shittiest of Monday mornings, and I can't wait to use it at my desk (even if it might get me sacked.) It's just daft, isn't it? Ironically, it's the perfect take-to-work mug. Maybe I'll drink some of my Beanies flavoured coffee in it?

They also do a 'weekend' mug as well, but I'm not prepared to submit to the draw of the weekend Ikea trip just yet, so I think I'll wait until I'm a bit older before I buy that one.

Whichever one you prefer, can grab yourself a feisty mug for £9.99 (or the set of two for £18.99) from Firebox.

One day I'll grow up, but it won't be today.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Friday Cocktail: Seduced by Seville

So, whilst your roses may still be going strong, that teddy clutching an ‘I love you’ banner still hasn’t found a permanent home yet, and there’s a handful of chocolates left in that heart shaped box, it’s time to move on; Valentines is over. With this, I have something I need to confess; I’ve been seeing someone else..

Call it what you want – an affair, a fling, a romance – I couldn’t help it. It’s not like it was planned or anything, it just, kind of, happened. I was drawn in by the popularity, the open mindedness, the dazzling glass.. Yes, glass. My chap need not worry, for it is not another man I've become infatuated with, it's the supermarket booze aisle. There I was, wandering around the shop, innocently looking for some ingredients for dinner, then somehow I found myself there. Alcohol wasn’t even on my list but, either way, I fully embraced the situation, checking out all the offers, new items, and so on. I left with a feeling of guilt and at least one additional thing in my basket.

Anyway, this has become a bit of a thing. I've got a well stocked 'bar' at home, but for some reason I still have the urge to visit that eighteens-only-aisle. I walk up and down, pick things up, read about them, put them back, have a butchers at what other people are putting in their trolleys, and generally linger a little too long. It's sad, I know, but I feel better for getting that off my chest.

My recent shop saw me come home with something that’s not your usual supermarket spirit; a bottle of cachaça, Velho Barreiro £19.99 from Waitrose. Cachaça is Brazil's favourite spirit and is the essential ingredient for a Caipirinha, so, to make up for my unnecessary purchase, it was cocktail o'clock. With Seville Oranges in season, I thought I'd take the opportunity to make a take on the classic; I brought a bit of Britishness to the Brazilian, and used marmalade instead of sugar, a Breakfast Martini of the Caipirinha world perhaps. As a thicker, more luxurious version of the original, I've called it Seduced By Seville – and it’s SUPER easy!

Seduced by Seville cocktail recipe (serves one)

  • 1 lime, cut into quarters
  • 1 heaped tsp Seville Orange Marmalade
  • 50ml Cachaça
  • A few drops of Orange Bitters (optional)
  • Ice (a few cubes or crushed)
Mix it!
  1. In a tumbler, muddle together the lime and marmalade until you’ve got out as much juice as possible, and the marmalade has essentially dissolved.
  2. Add the ice, cachaça and orange bitters (if using).
  3. Stir vigorously and serve.
Maybe next time you venture to your supermarket, take a little extra time to browse that beautiful booze aisle (if you see a strange lady lurking and peering into your basket, it'll be me*, say hello!) Spontaneously splurge on something, I dare you.

*it might not be me, you’ll seem strange then.

Supermarket image taken from Violentz's photostream under the Creative Commons License.
Cocktail image taken from Robert S Donovan's photostream under the Creative Commons License

In the Mix: Delicious Mixers You're Missing Out On

While the recent rise in craft spirits has been well documented (see my last post, about gin) one interesting consequence of this trend has been a long overdue pickup in the quality of mixers.

Until the last few years, bars have been limited to post-mix, which is essentially soda water mixed with a concentrated flavoured syrup.  While I grudgingly admit that the watery artificial sweetness is somewhat of a guilty pleasure if I have over indulged the night before, post-mix has all the gastronomic quality and charm as a rustlers burgers.  Even the places that go for bottled mixers generally don't go for anything more adventurous than Schweppes or Britvic.

On the one hand, it could be argued that keeping mixers cheap is a way to off-set the cost of more expensive spirits, allowing for quality brands to be poured while still being affordable.  In my opinion, though, this is causing people to lose out on a large part of the experience.  A surprisingly common trend is the amount of people I've encountered who claim not to like gin when in reality its the bitterness of cheap tonic that has ruined the experience.

Two companies leading the way are Fentimans and Fever-Tree.  Fever-Tree put it as well as anyone on their website 'if 3/4 of your drink is tonic, make it an excellent one.'
Their range of mixers - that has recently incorporated a lovely delicate elderflower tonic (£1.69 for half a litre at Tesco) - uses only natural ingredients and no artificial sweeteners. The result is light and fresh, much more delicate, and really allows the spirit to do the talking.

Fentimans 'botanically brewed' soft drinks have recreated a lovely range of mock Victorian mixers, ranging from a banging Dandelion and Burdock and 'Curiosity Cola' (both £2.79 for 750ml at Tesco) through to a classic cloudy lemonade (£1.07 at TheDrinkShop).  The real star of their range for me is the rose lemonade (£2.79, Waitrose): delicately sweet, it uses rose water sparingly, so the finish is floral but not soapy.

In the upper echelons of the bar world, many venues now make a lot of their own mixers in-house.  While tonic can be a little tricky, the use of blenders and centrifugal juicers has allowed a whole spectrum of cordials and juices.  Homemade ginger beer is common and used in conjunction with good quality fresh citrus as a garnish - and you can even get in on the act yourself by buying this 'ginger beer making kit' for £15.99 from Firebox.

I also couldn't write a post about mixers without mentioning Ting (currently 3 for £1 at Tesco).  Basically a hipster lilt, this sugary little devil is great with rum and fresh lime.  Or if you are feeling more adventurous, throw a salt rim on your glass and mix with lime and tequila to give a slightly sweeter take on the Mexican classic, Paloma.

So next time you are perusing the back bar looking for just the right spirit, spend a few seconds considering what's going to fill the rest of your glass...

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Islay Single Malt Whisky in a Bordeaux First Growth barrel?

I recently completed "dry January". I didn't do it to be some kind of martyr or raise money for any noble cause, I just figured that my liver (and my wallet) could do with a break once a year! Now, when you're a bit of a booze hound (which I'm guessing you are if you're reading this blog) and have spent a month away from the good stuff, you tend to find yourself putting a great deal of thought into what you are going to choose for your dramatic dismount from the wagon. It was going to need to be something spectacular, something that I could savour, something special. Fortunately I had just such a bottle stashed away in my drinks cabinet...

The bottle in question was a Bruichladdich (pronounced Brook-laddy) 16 year Islay whisky aged in barrels from Chateau Margaux. This bottle was given to me as a present by my siblings for my 30th birthday last year and I'd been looking for a suitably auspicious occasion to crack into it. Bruichladdich is a distillery from Islay of extremely high repute and they have an extremely large range of whiskies in their collection. One of the things that they seem to experiment with a lot is using different casks to age their whiskies, in order to impart unique flavours. A perfect example of this was their First Growth series where Bruichladdich put out a series of whiskies which had all been aged for 16 years in oak barrels that they had obtained from First Growth vineyards.

My particular whisky came from Margaux. Now, I would love to tell you at this point that I have extensive knowledge or tasting experience of Premier Grand Cru Classe wines from Margaux and therefore could make some direct comparisons here, however that would be a big, fat, stinking lie. One day I will try those wines; I just need that lottery win to come in... In the meantime, however, I could taste the whisky - which I certainly did.

It had a beautifully gentle golden hue to it. On the nose it smelt soft and gentle, a touch of sea spray with a slightly perfumed aroma and a hint of soft fruits. On the palate it was gorgeously warming, with a creamy texture and a very long and pervasive finish (we're talking well over 45 seconds here). This wasn't a whisky that I felt absolutely needed some water adding to it, but I found that a couple of drops just softened it nicely and allowed it to open up.

As a special occasion whisky this was exactly what I was looking for. What better way to get back into the booze then by combining two of my great drink based loves? Fine wine and top quality whisky...

Now, I just need to convince my siblings to buy me the Pauillac, Sauternes, Pomerol and Pessac-Leognan...

Note - Unfortunately, it seems that this whisky is very difficult to get hold of now. About the only place that I seem able to find it is Vinus Vinis and they say that they have very limited stocks left, so if you are looking to buy one I'd move fast...      

We've Gone All Michelin Starry-Eyed for Wine at The Kitchin

If you're a little bit of a wine geek like us here at Vinspire you'll probably be the one picking up the wine menu at a restaurant long before you've even thought about the food, oohing and ahhing over the unsual varietals or familiar names peering back at you and creating an 'if-money-were-no-object' wine wish list in your head.

For a wine geek, there is nothing better reading than a restaurant wine list.

Whether we're intending to be critical or not, we definitely are. Whether we're actually going to choose that bottle of Chateau Margaux on the list we were lucky enough to try at a tasting one time....well, that's down to the number of pennies in your purse, but probably not.

When it comes to actually choosing a wine, it's often based on what you can afford and even then do you choose the meal first and find a wine to match? Or choose the wine and then find a meal to complement? Decisions in restuarants are hard, especially if you want to try everything on the wine list.

Here in lies the beauty of the matched wine package. Spotted next to many set lunch and dinner menus, the matched wine package takes away any indecisions - perfect for an indecisive bugger like me! - and you get to try a vareity of wines, safe in the knowledge that love and attention has gone into finding a food and wine match made in heaven by in-house sommeliers.

Last week, with my saved up pennies, I dined with the other half at The Kitchin in Edinburgh, opened in 2006 by passionate Scotsman, Tom Kitchin and his wife. With a host of awards for their menus - both food and wine - this michelin-starred team deliver their simple philosophy 'from nature to plate' with exceptional style and elegance.

Having considered many options from both the menu and the wine list, we opted for the Chef's Classic Tasting Menu, and the matched wine package to accompany which was daring as all choice and decision was removed but we hoped for a few surprises.

Decisions made, we were swiftly with a glass of toasty, yeasty Philliponnat Royal Reserve Champagne (check out Champagnes Wines Direct) in hand, and the merriment began without the stress of making a choice from their extensive and incredible wine list. With a wine to match each course, the excitement was not just for the food, but for which wine would arrive to accompany...

For the shellfish rockpool, a cool and crisp 2012 Albarino from Bodegas Martin Codax with just-ripe apple, peach and pear flavours - delicious with shellfish and the salty sea vegetables. Want to know a secret? I've since discovered that Bodegas Martin Codax are the producers behind the Tesco Finest* Albarino, which you can pick up at Tesco for £7.49. It's a different blend, but the character is very much the same.

With the razor clams served with diced vegetables, chorizo and lemon confit, came one of my favourite wines from Western Australia - Plantagenet Riesling, 2013. Dry and crisp, this unoaked beauty is clean, elegant and full of citrussy zing. The clams had a sort of creamy consistency so the acidity of the wine really cut through to release the flavour of the lemon and spice of the chorizo. A stunning wine. If you fancy giving it a go, you can pick up the 2012 vintage from The Wine Society for £13.50.

Big in flavour, the rolled pig's head with hand-dived scallop arrived with the Etna Rosso Tenuta delle Terre Nerre, 2012. At 14.5% it hits you - bam! - in the face in the best way possible. Full-bodied with bright, ripe flavours of cherries, strawberries and herby thyme , it's tannic and everything you need for the rich flavours of the dish. Wine Direct has it on offer at the moment for £11.95 and I would highly recommend you try.

I'll skip a couple of get the gist - the food was amazing and so were the wines. All credit to their sommelier, indeed excellent choices (though suprised I had actually tasted half the before!). Where I want to jump to is the dessert...

Pumpkin, chocolate and rum tiramisu with creme fraiche ice cream - yes, already heaven, but it got better! Out came possibly the most delicious wine of the evening - a deep amber, sticky glass of deliciousness - the Dandelion Vineyards Legacy of the Barossa 30 Year Old Pedro Ximinez (available at The Drink Shop, £13.95 for a 37.5cl bottle). Sweet aromas of figs, raisins, maple syrup and nuts, this just got better on the palate - rich flavours of dried apricots, figs, toffee and candied orange peel. With the smooth pumpkin and the rich chocolate, this found the middle ground and made all the flavours sing. Better still, it's from South Australia, my homeland...I think I am in love - sorry other half, you've lost me now!

The morale of the story? My advice? If a matched wine package is available, go for it, especially in a restaurant of this calibre. You're bound to be surprised, it takes away the stresses of decision, the wine guys have done all the work and quite franky, I think it's bloomin' good value. Michelin star status proven, Kitchin - you had me at the first course.

Dining picture taken from isante_magazine's photostream under the Creative Commons License on Flickr.

Pig's head and scallop image from theCSSdiv's photostream under the Creative Commons License on Flickr.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Blended Whisky and the Power of the Brand

Photo by Tzutzu

Today you won't see much advertising for single malt whiskies - these are products that are publicised through reviews, word of mouth and so on to build a long and healthy reputation based on consistently providing a good product.

 I have never seen a Laphroaig sponsored sports event, or a music festival backed by Dalmore. This is partially due to the target markets not being there, and they wouldn't be influenced by such endeavours, and I completely understand that a nice and easy, sweet bourbon is going to lend itself a lot more to rocking out than a nice sherried malt.

This is at least historically and generally true. However, (and this is what frustrates me) you will see tons of ads for bourbons and blended whiskies that place so much stock behind the "brand": it's the marketing, the label, the logo, the story they've concocted in sterile boardrooms.

Photo by Ron Cogswell
Once the PR guys get their claws into the semblance of something they will cling on and beat it to death. If I hear anymore about goddamned Old No.7 I'll probably throw up. What makes it worse is that Jack Daniels say they have no idea how the number came about as though it is something wonderfully mysterious and therefore must have some amazing lineage.

They will pose a few possibilities: the good old No.7 train that carried the barrels, or that old Jack the lad had 7 women on the go, or that 7 fingers of whisky is what Jack's esteemed clients love with their coke. Seriously, if a number THAT MEANS NOTHING is the selling point that sets you apart from the competition then there is something really wrong going on.

We've established that there are brands setting themselves apart from the competition using inane, shallow bullshit masquerading as mystery and heritage, but now there are those that trick you with the visage of quality.

Photo by Five Starr Photos
There is one main brand that I think of in this category (although there are others), and that's good old Johnnie.

Johnnie Walker is one of those brands (owned by Diageo) that is in every bar - and it should be, as it's a good mixer. However, my umbrage comes from the fact that Johnnie Walker is styled as a luxury label, of class and substance, and really as something special.

The entry level bottle is labelled as "Old Scotch Whisky," but a quick internet search brings up the fact that the whisky is only 8 years old! That's a toddler. 10-12 years is average, 18 years is well-aged, and 20+ years could be considered old - calling an 8 year old whisky "old" is insulting.

Now, this isn't to say that Johnnie Walker produce bad whiskies, as some of them are pretty good. I swear by Black label as a mixer and Gold is pretty impressive, but the issue with these are the price: black label is an average, mixing-level whisky, and yet it's priced at the same level as really good single malts. They are able to get away with this as a result of their marketing and the false illusion of quality through high pricing which many of the consumers have fallen for.

I apologise for this poorly formulated and incoherent rant, but I implore you to please, please be an informed consumer. Don't fall for the marketing ploys, lies and tricks, it's all smoke and mirrors.

Win! We Have Two Corkcicles To Give Away!

I don’t know about you, but quite often my wine purchase is an impulse purchase from a local supermarket or convenience store. It’s something that I think of on the way home from work, when I collect the shopping to cook dinner with that night. The growth in popularity of convenience shopping as less of us do big shops in favour of popping in for the necessities of that coming evening, suggests I'm not the only one who buys on the fly.

The wines from these outlets are sometimes chilled, other times not, but they usually they aren't quite cool enough by the time I arrive home and open the bottle for that much anticipated glass.
The fridge is a no-go - it just takes too long to get it to temperature, and I want it NOW. You could put ice in it, but the thought of watering down my beautiful Sauvignon Blanc doesn’t bear thinking about... So, what to do? Well, that is where this nifty little baby comes in.

Named ‘Corkcicle’, it looks like a wand you would find in the likes of Harry Potter (not that I watch those films or anything... ahem), and it actually does work magic on your bottle of white wine, maintaining the perfect temperature so you can keep the wine on the table without having to nip back and forth to the fridge- win! Sitting bottles of wine on ice can also end up making the wine too cold, which ends up masking the flavours you have spent your hard earned cash on to enjoy, and the Corkcicle claims to keep the wine perfectly chilled so you can enjoy it at its best. 

Not sure? Well, I road-tested one for myself, and for someone who really isn't into gadgets and gimmicks, I was left really impressed. We put the Corksicle in at around 6.30pm, and sipped the bottle until around 8.30pm (when it ran out!) and the wine was kept cool without going anywhere near a fridge- although, the wine does need to be cool. I don't think this would chill a bottle from room temperature.

You put the ‘Corkcicle’ into the freezer and pull it out when you need it, which does require some organisation, but much less than having to fill up ice trays. I can really see this catching on in smart wine bars, as the bottle is nice and dry with no crinkly soggy labels, and it looks so swish!

They are available in the classic cork design, plus a whole host of fab colours (naturally, I went for the pink one) either online at or from Selfridges, Argos, the Handpicked Collection and WineBase from £19.95 - and it can be used over and over again. They also come beautifully packaged so would make lovely gifts.

Speaking of gifts, did I mention we have two Classic Corkcicles to give away?! 
To enter, just share this post on Twitter using the hashtag #Vinspiregiveaway (so we can find your tweets!), retweet our giveaway tweet, or head over to our Facebook page to like and tag a friend on our post on there. The giveaway closes on Monday at midday, and we'll pick winners at random and notify you by Wednesday 26th February in the hope you will receive it ready for the weekend! Don’t forget to follow our friends at Corkcicle on Twitter for news and more info: @corkcicleUK.

Small print: This giveaway is only open to UK residents (sorry, overseas readers!) and entrants must be aged 18 or over. The giveaway closes at midday on Monday and late entries will not be accepted under any circumstances. You may enter once each on Twitter and Facebook, but any further entries will be disqualified. The corkcicles were donated to Vinspire by the lovely Corkcicle guys themselves - unfortunately, none of the Vinspire team is eligible to win the prize. The winner has 24 hours to come forward, or we'll give the prize to someone else (sorry!) If you have any questions, feel free to email us.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Why I Bloody Love Beaujolais

I have always been a fan of Beaujolais but I think it is still massively overlooked by everyone.

Beaujolais wines come from an area in France between Burgundy and the Rhone. The reds are soft, juicy and fruity (like me) and can be bloody fantastic (erm, like me...?), if you know where to look.

Beaujolais can be an excellent introduction to red wine for someone who generally just drinks white wine, dessert wine, or just Malibu (you know who you are).
Beaujolais, overall, is light bodied, very fruit driven and low in the mouth-drying tannins that put a lot of people off of red wines. It's often best served a little bit chilled too, as it makes it crisp and refreshing.

There are a few levels of Beaujolais, ranging from the very basic up to wines with a named Cru on the label, such as Fleurie or Brouilly for example.

Arguably my favourite Cru and one that is often completely ignored for it's more well known neighbours is Julienas.
Made entirely from the juicy Gamay grape, as all Beaujolais red wines are, the Julienas 2011 from Trenel is an amazing example of what Beaujolais has to offer. This is a wine with lots of depth but is as easy to drink as fruit juice. If you have never tried Julienas before or if you don't even usually drink red wines, this is a perfect red wine equivelent of a gateway drug...

Julienas 2011 Trenel is avalable from The Wine Society for £9.50 - not exactly everyday drinking price but it's well worth every penny. If you want to get a taste of Beaujolais but need to save your pennies, you should give The Society's Beaujolais Villages a go, at £6.95.

What's your favourite Beaujolais? let us know by commenting below or on our facebook or twitter page.

Top image taken from dzonline's photostream under the creative commons act.

Recycling: Bottle Lights.

It often happens that once I've had a decent bottle of wine I want to keep the empty as a souvenir. Whether it just has a pretty picture on it, it was a particularly good vintage or just a recognisable name, once I've hung onto it, I struggle to find something actually useful to do with it. One of my initial thoughts was turning it into a rather attractive lamp. My electrician skills, however, are far from up to the task.

It wasn't until last week when indulging my love for browsing shopping websites for all manner of crap that I don't need/can't afford that I was offered quite possibly the easiest solution ever!

Cork lights! Basically just a super bright LED shaped like a cork, it fits into the neck of any bottle making something useful out of that empty bottle you've placed in an ego boosting position on the shelf. From now on when you're friends remark on what a lovely lamp you have, you can reply with, 'Why yes I did drink that very expensive 1982 Mouton Rothschild. Haha, Look at me!'

They're £10 a pop from Suck UK. You probably won't be buying one for every single bottle in your collection, but it's certainly worth it for the good ones. Especially cool if you happen to have an empty bottle of Crystal Skull. That would look bad ass!

Monday, 17 February 2014

Shops We Love: Hattie's Wines

 You may have noticed the Hattie's Wines logo on our sidebar over the last few months (they're one of our lovely advertisers) but this is far from a sponsored post - I am genuinely in love with what they're doing and thought it was about time we shouted about it!

We only work with companies and brands that we think are genuinely talented, different, and special, as well as being relevant to all of you lovely readers, so when I stumbled upon this glamourous, kick-arse wine shop for women I was super pleased.

I first discovered them when I realised they stocked Domaine Jones wines (we've long been a fan of Katie's work) and I was instantly attracted by their chosen tagline for the wine. No 'aromas of blah blah blah' or 'From the XYZ appellation', but simply: "For when you (or your tastebuds) need a cuddle."

That's the key to Hattie's wines: no-fuss, says-it-like-it-is tasting notes that give practical advice (there are plenty of 'drink it with bangers and mash', 'for nights on the sofa and plates of pasta' and 'for when you plan to sit in the garden and not do much else' type descriptions) that can appeal to anyone, but especially to your average Joe (or Joanne) that just wants something they know they'll like.

For such an accessible, crowd-pleasing store, you'd be surprised by the petiteness of their range: there's actually just 49 wines on their list at the moment. Crucially, however, there's an awful lot of diversity, and each wine seems chosen with love, the passion and sincerity of Hattie's owners shining through with each description. Also worth noting is Hattie's pricing: not one wine is over £20, with only two of the range over £15, and just 12 wines in total over a tenner, so they really do appeal to all budgets.

I was eager to see if their wines lived up to the promising nature of their website and company ethos, so I was thrilled when they sent the Vinspire team a few bottles to try. Here are our thoughts:

1. 2011 Naudin Tiercin Macon Villages, £9.99

Drew tasted this, and thought it showed value for money if you're after a white Burg:
"A light, easy drinking Chardonnay from the Macon. It’s fresh and pleasantly zingy with citrus notes
and a splash of cream in the finish. It’s a garden party wine to be enjoyed with your friends of with light white fish or shellfish. Lovely."

2. 2011 Land's End Syrah, £12.99

Hugo tried this South African red with a super-cute lighthouse label:
"This has a really tasty black, berry fruit and brambly flavour. There is spice too, and it's very smooth and not too jammy - definite cold climate influences. It's light on the tannins, making it a nicely quaffable wine, but has a decent alcohol kick. There are also the slightest chocolatey notes in the background but only a touch. It does linger, if not quite as long as I'd like, and is wonderfully rounded. Also a nice touch is the red and white banded foil to match the lighthouse on the label. All in all a really nice bottle."

3. 2012 Chateau l'Arnaude Cotes de Provence rose, £11.99

Freddy tried this, and is unashamedly fond of this pink beauty (just LOOK at the gorgeous label!):
"I've always been a fan of funky labels, providing the wine in the bottle is up to scratch. This really is a funky label that will definitely divide people, but if you like rosé, this is a cracker. Light, fresh fruit flavours and a really crisp and refreshing acidity make this an excellent wine for a summers day. My only warning is that it will disappear before you know it! (I accidentally drank the whole bottle...)"

4. Borsao Garnacha, £6.99

It was down to me to try the cheapest of the bunch, but I totally didn't regret my choice:
"You know those wines you just always want to have a few bottles of in the rack? The kind you can sip on an idle Thursday in front of Silent Witness, or pour out when someone unexpected turns up for a chat, and the kind you can sip with some hearty winter food OR over a barbecue? This is it. The right balance between fruit and spice, simple and stylish, food-friendly and sippable.

Southern French viognier is way over-rated, so Sam was excited to try this, even though he wasn't mad keen on the high-heel label (I TOTALLY WAS):
"A real mouth-filler of a white, packed full of pear and pineapple, with hints of floral spiciness too. Not as weighty as other viogniers, but it's still a punchy number, and something I enjoyed drinking on a weeknight when some friends came over for a relaxed, chatty supper. It suited the mood perfectly."

6. Septima Malbec, £8.49

Matt tried this and is now hungry for more:
"This wine ticks all the boxes when it comes to reasonably priced Argentine Malbec. Packed with ripe fruit, smooth tannins and a beautifully soft, smokey character underlined with a kiss of vanilla. Classy and elegant for the price it would be a perfect match for the Argentinian diet of meat, meat and more meat. That being said this wine goes very well with itself and is certainly fantastic value for money. Paola Borgo is one to watch."

My advice is to have a browse and put a little case together, but if you're having problems deciding, Hattie's has a cure for that too: the Hattie Shuffle. It's a super-cute little tool - you just select the type of case, colour(s) and style you're looking for and Hattie's 'wheel of fortune' spins and picks a mixed case to suit your tastes. 

They also have a 'wine tube map' and wedding planner, which I love, but the first thing I'd recommend is liking their mega-helpful Facebook page.

What's more - they have a loyalty scheme so the more you buy, you more you get for free - that's not something you get at every wine shop!

Who here has used Hattie's before? What did you think? And what's catching your eye from the range? Let us know in the comments or on our Twitter and Facebook pages...