Saturday, 31 May 2014

Gibson's Organic Fruit Liqueurs: a fruity cocktail challenge

The actual contents of my fridge...
So I have a confession. When two little bottles of Gibson's Fruit Liqueur landed on my desk, I basically had no idea what to do with them. Wine - sure, I know about wine. Spirits - they’re fine too. Fruit liqueurs? I know pretty much nothing. 

So, I set myself a little discovery challenge: to create two different drinks using only what I already had at home. I figure fruit liqueurs are something most of us are given as gifts, and might not remember when we go to the supermarket, or when planning a party, so I wanted ingredients to be simple and non-expensive, and for the freshness and the flavour of the fruit liqueur to truly show itself.

Organic Liqueurs with Friendly Bunny.

Firstly, let’s introduce our special little ingredients. Gibson’s Liqueurs are made in Oxfordshire, by hand, and all of the fruits are grown locally on the farm (which looks stunning). They are priced at £14.99 for a larger bottle of 35cl, and available from a whole host of lovely local independents. If you’re buying online,Vintage Roots is an excellent online stockist. All of the fruit is organic, which I truly believe creates a richer, purer flavour in both food and drink- these liqueurs are no exception, retaining vivid characteristics of their ingredients.

After (hiccup!) much trial and error, these two were the most delicious use of the most delicious Organic Fruit liqueurs! Oh. And I’m converted- I would DEFINITELY buy them especially from now on!

Raspberry fizz

This time of year, I always have raspberries and strawberries in the fridge which is kind of perfect as the first liqueur was a raspberry one.
Sexy and seductive; a real head turner
I tried initially making this will still wine, as a way of disguising an acidic white wine, and although it was OK, it really improves with the fizz. This little bottle of prosecco is available in Asda for £4, but you could use any prosecco/fruit led fizz; the yeastiness of Champagne would probably bring it down a little, and quite frankly would be a waste of Champagne.

Pour one part raspberry liqueur over 4 of 5 raspberries and leave for a minute or two so the liqueur soaks into the fresh fruit. Then, top up with your fizz. The colour from the liqueur is fresh, bright and vivid, and mixed with the fresh raspberries is like a big fat kiss; it looks seductive. Next time I have a drinks reception- this one is coming out.

English Summer

Elderflower can be a bit ‘love it or hate it’; luckily, I love it. The floral, fresh deliciousness reminds that its summer time more than anything else. Until now, I haven’t ever tasted an elderflower liqueur (or a wine for that matter), using this lovely floral treat as a soft drink presse instead. It definitely works in its boozy form too!

Fresh and classic- just like elderflower should be

For me elderflower is a classic, quality, beauty, and a drink that contains it needs to be the same. For that reason (and because it’s my favourite) I have added some good quality gin to this recipe- just a splash though- and decent tonic. It’s nice to watch the richness of the liqueur mix with the thinner gin. 2 parts liquor, 1 part gin, 2 parts tonic. Ensure you have plenty of ice, and get the liqueur chilled, or pour in first and let it sit in the ice for a minute or two.

Do you love fruit liqueurs? Any tips to use up the rest of my little bottles? And which of the Gibson's range do you like best?

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Competition Time: Food & Wine Giveaway!

At Vinspire there is very little that we love more than drinks... and, if we had to say something that comes close it would be food! If you’re anything like us, and love food & drink, this is a double whammy of a giveaway you WON'T want to miss. Its SO GOOD in fact, it’s in two parts!

If you read us regularly, you probably would have heard of Bonterra. They are some super cool people in Mendicino California who pioneered Organic wine back in the 1980’s, and have been making outstanding, award winning wines ever since. Their flagship wines are the classic Zinfandel, Merlot and Chardonnay, and are available through Waitrose stores and Tesco Wines by the Case.

From 13th-15th June, Bonterra will be at the Cheltenham Food & Drink Festival; dubbed as one of the best foodie festivals in the UK by Tatler UK and alike, this is one NOT to miss!

The Vinspire Only Bit:

We are giving away a pair of tickets to our lovely Vinspire readers to the Cheltenham Food and Drink festival which can be used on either the Saturday or the Sunday, PLUS a bottle of each of the three flagship Bonterra varieties!

To enter, just share this post on Twitter using the hashtag #VinspireOrganic (so we can find your tweets!), retweet our giveaway tweet, or head over to our Facebook page to like our post on there and comment underneath it saying which of the wines you'd most like to try!

The competition closes on Monday 2nd June at midday and then we'll pick a winner at random and announce who they are on Tuesday 3rd.

(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 tickets were donated to Vinspire by the lovely Bonterra 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 to make sure we can get them the tickets on time (sorry!) If you have any questions, feel free to email us.)

The BIG Bit:

In addition, Bonterra are running a national competition to win a £500 Hotel Du Vin voucher, weekend tickets to the Cheltenham Food and Drink Festival and a bottle of each of the favourite Bonterra wines!

This is open to all UK residents over 18, and you can enter simply by texting Organic to 88802. Data will be protected, and never, ever shared with anyone else.


Sparkling Summer Fruit Jellies with Ridgeview Bloomsbury

The last few years has seen a surge in popularity for English sparkling wine, much to the debate of many critics, and remains to be a popular choice to rival Champagne. Admittedly, given the price of most English sparkling wines, it's not your 'Friday-night-in-with-the-girls' fizzy, but it does hold a special place for celebrations and when you want to impress.

With the tagline 'Life is for celebrating', English sparkling wine producer Ridgeview is a family company, with a dedication to making the highest quality sparkling wine, using the same grape varieties, and the traditional method used for Champagne production. They've been awarded numerous awards and accolades so there's no mistaking why they've made a name for themselves in the wine world.

Their signature blend is the Ridgeview Bloomsbury, which is a Chardonnay dominant blend supported by the fullness of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Crisp and fresh with citrus fruit aromas and a little toastiness and honey on the palate, it's well-balanced and displays perfect fine bubbles that burst on the tongue. Ridgeview suggest it would be a good match for oily fish such as salmon and smoked trout, but would be hard to beat with a refreshing sorbet.

As it's English Wine Week, I thought I would try something typically British, and make a summer fruit pudding, but having spotted a recipe for Champagne Summer Fruit Jellies, I knew I'd found my dish. These decadent adult jellies, which I've made with Ridgeview Bloomsbury, are light, refreshing, and even count towards your five-a-day! What better way to enjoy British summer fruit and English sparkling wine? With an accompaniment of more bubbles of course!

Sparkling Summer Fruit Jellies with Ridgeview Bloomsbury recipe

To make 6 individual jellies you'll need:

Couple of handfuls of blueberries
Couple of handfuls of raspberries
4 leaves of gelatine
400ml Ridgeview Bloomsbury
2 tablespoons caster sugar
Lemon zest to garnish

How to:

1. To individual moulds add a few blueberries and a few raspberries (until the mould is about half full) then place in the fridge.
2. Soak the gelatine leaves in cold water until they have softened. Remove, squeezing off any excess water and put into a larger bowl.
3. Cover the gelatine with 150ml hot water (not boiling), add the caster sugar and stir to dissolve.
4. When the gelatine water has cooled to room temperature, add the Ridgeview Bloomsbury and stir well to combine.
5. Pour the liquid over the berries in the chilled moulds and return to the fridge to set. This should take a few hours.
6. When set, pop the bottom of the mould in some warm water to loosen, then turn out onto a plate.
7. Garnish with a few curls of lemon zest and serve with a glass of Ridgeview Bloomsbury.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Feis Ile Whisky Festival: Special New Releases

So for whisky lovers, the real smoke freaks, it is almost like Christmas at the moment. It is Feis Ile, the Islay whisky festival!

So, I'm fairly certain that there are quite a few people out there who don't know what Feis Ile is... So, it's the annual whisky festival on Islay that features all the Islay distilleries, it's been running for thirty years and is a celebration of their wonderful produce and an opportunity to release and showcase new whiskies.

Each distillery has a specific day at the festival where they hold special events and release special bottlings. As well as all the whisky business there is other fun to be had, there are loads of concerts, fishing, bowling, dances, golf and so on to get involved in - it's pretty awesome.

Now for most of us getting to Islay for the festival is simply not feasible - HOWEVER, our own Lucienne is there right now, and is going to be telling you about her experience on Monday!

I hope to make a pilgrimage to that phenolic Jerusalem myself in the next few years, but until then must content myself with getting my hands on as many of the special Feis Ile bottles as possible. There are not many that will be widely available to those not attending this year and they are sure to sell out fast and so I want to let you know what's what and where what can be got.

Ardbeg Auriverdes

Every year Ardbeg's release causes a bit of a stir one way or another - their whiskies are hugely collectable, the marketing is impeccable and the whisky isn't half bad either. This year's release is called Auriverdes and is a tip of the metaphorical hat to the World Cup in Brazil this year.

The name Auriverdes translates to gold and green, describing the bottle and holy golden bounty within, but also is a homage to the Brazilian national team. The box also features Atlas (or someone I take to be Atlas having studied Classics at school don't'cha'know) it's pretty damn cool and I'm hoping against hope that some of the little scarves pictured get released, although early indications are that they aren't being sent out currently, sadly.

Onto the whisky in the bottle. This is a higher strength (49.9%) whisky that has not been chill-filtered or coloured and will likely be somewhere around 10yrs old, although no age statement will be released. The whisky has been matured in casks with heavily charred lids to impart some slightly heavier oak, toast, vanilla and coffee notes than you get on the standard 10yr.

This will be about £80 and you can get your first chance to taste and buy it on Ardbeg Day, an international day of celebrating which should by all rights be recognised as a national holiday. This year's Ardbeg Day is to have an underlying football theme and there are various events  throughout the world - you can find your nearest here.

You will be able to find Auriverdes at an Ardbeg Day event (31st May), on the Ardbeg website (31st May) and Master of Malt (20th June).

Laphroaig Cairdeas 2014

Laproaig are another company that has made much of the opportunity Feis Ile provides. Cairdeas, meaning friendship, is released yearly for the Islay festival and is usually an opportunity for Laphroaig to experiment with some interesting wood finishes.

This year's Cairdeas has been matured in first fill ex-bourbon casks and then finished in Amontillado sherry hogsheads for a year. It is likely that this will be bottled just a little above 50% abv and should be a stunning dram with all the normal Laphroaig goodness, but with extra sweet nuttyness and complexity.

Cairdeas is only available to Friends of Laphroaig, this means that in order to purchase it you must have bought a bottle of Laproaig before and then registered the code in the booklet that comes in the whisky tube. This not only enables you to buy the Cairdeas, but also you receive discounts on future orders and are able to redeem loyalty points for every future bottle of Laphroaig you buy.

Furthermore, you are allotted your own square foot of peaty Islay soil to call your own and whenever you visit the distillery can collect rent in the form of a dram!

Cairdeas will be available on Laproaig's website to FoL members on 2nd June for £65.

Other Worthy Mentions

Of course the other distilleries will be making their own limited releases - Bruichladdich have released a new Octomore (an uber-uber, mentally peated malt), but this is so stupidly limited and so will all sell out at the festival.  Lagavulin also released a Feis Ile whisky, this will also not really be available for general sale, this also stands for Caol Ila, Bowmore and Kilchoman.

So, it is gutting not to be able to make it to Feis Ile and even worse is the fact that the BBC hasn't picked up the rights like Glastonbury so I can drink along with everyone else...
Never mind, there's always next year, and in the meantime you can hear all about the highlights of the event from Lucienne on Monday...


Port: The First English Winemaking Success?

The Douro River, home to some of the world's most spectacular vineyards.
It's English wine week! So here is something about Port...

From Portugal...


Well actually, it's not quite as much of a stupid idea as you might think. It's hard to find a wine region outside of England, which is so dominated by the English.

Since 1386, England and Portugal have been trading closely with one-another, when the Treaty of Windsor was established. It wasn't long before many English merchants moved over to Portugal to set up shop and who can blame them!? With so many cheap holidays to be had in the Algarve...

Port as we know it today wasn't just invented overnight though. English merchants started off by shipping cheap, light wine back over to the UK. Gradually, the wines that were being imported to England, by the English (see, there's a theme evolving here), from Portugal, became more and more full-bodied and robust. Because these wines were sourced from the upper Douro, the shippers centred themselves around Porto, near the mouth to the River Douro, where they still are today.

How then, did wine become fortified, as we know it today? Well, this is much to do with the shipping of the wines. Another thing which is thanks to Mr Englishman...

In order to stabilise the wines as they traveled from Portugal to England by boat, shippers would sometimes add a bit of grape-spirit or Brandy. This would prevent any secondary fermentation starting up on the journey. Gradually, as people wised-up to the effects that this process had on the wine, they started to add the grape-spirit earlier, before the wine had finished its initial fermentation. This meant that there was sugar left in the wine, resulting in a sweeter and much more fresh style.

It was in 1820 that the practise of fortifying these wines really caught on, because it was such an amazing vintage that all following vintages had to fortify, just so they were comparable.

Fast forward a bloody long time (194 years) and the Brits are still incredibly dominant in the land of Port. Characters such as Adrian Bridge, CEO of the Fladgate partnership and the man behind Taylors Port, still run the region to this day. English through and through.

So although wines produced in our drizzly island are now starting to do very well, with other countries saying "finally, the English are producing something drinkable" - remember, we have been producing stunning wine for years. We just had to do it in another country...

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Wine for Beginners: Common English Grape Varieties

Three Choirs Vineyard. Photo: Andrew Callow (CCL)

 As we begin the preparations for a week of celebrating the ever growing English Wine industry I thought I'd give us an introduction into common grapes of English wine and what we can expect from these.

One of the common themes of English grape growing is non-English sounding grape varieties. Whilst wine making is not historically uncommon in the UK, our maritime climate is not particularly conducive to growing a wide range of international grape varieties and as such, does not really offer the best conditions for still wine making. Lack of overall sunlight hours means most grape varieties struggle to reach full ripeness, show lack of flavour concentration and produce unapproachable, overly acidic wines.
Photo: eatingeast (CCL)

But this, coupled with the chalky soils of Sussex, Kent, and other counties in the South of England (similar to that of Champagne) provide an environment which is (unsurprisingly) almost ideal for producing top notch sparkling wine. The base wine used in the production of sparkling wine, before second fermentation, is generally untouchably acidic, and so the planting and growing of the classic Champagne grape varieties (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) made sense in order to produce sparkling wine that can compete with the best.

But this is pretty well known thanks to that episode of The Apprentice and your local, regional food festivals, and much more interesting is the development of the still wine industry in the UK.

So, it's cold here and it rains a lot. Sure, last weekend was lovely and we can look forward to at least two more sunburnt-pub-garden-BBQ-centric weekends this summer, (pessimist, Me? No...) but we know it's not the ideal summer holiday destination, so winemakers of the UK had to compensate. And to do this, we had to look at successful wine producing areas, with similar climatic conditions.

Three Choirs vineyard
 (Photo: Andrew Callow)
Step in Müller-Thurgau, Reichensteiner and Madeleine Angevine, generally grown in Germany and Austria; Seyval-Blanc which loves the cold and can hold it's own here and in chillier North America such as upstate New York and Virginia; Bacchus which is a variety given birth by crossing Sylvaner and Reisling and the aforementioned Müller-Thurgau; and Ortega which is the Hob-Knob of the grape world. It's tough exterior hinting little at it's softer centre can battle the brittle winters of Switzerland, Sweden and Canada where the water in your eyes can freeze.

Further to this, there's a huge list of grape varieties that contribute to blends to a greater or lesser extent and as I pointed out, the classic Champagne varieties abound mostly for sparkling wine, with little producing varietal wine except a little Pinot Noir, but Pinot Blanc is known to produce varietal wines to support.

So, what do you get if you buy wine from your own doorstep?

Seyval-Blanc - This is high cropping, early budding grape variety and at high crop levels with little care and poor conditions produces a wine of severe acidity. With care, attention and cool head, where it appears varietally it produces a wine of fresh, crisp acidity with citrusy minerality. Generally though, it is blended with Müller-Thurgau and Reisling and other grape varieties where it can contribute freshness and structure to the final wine.

Bacchus - This is an aromatic grape variety and is probably one of the most common grapes to appear in varietally labelled English wine. At full ripeness, it has very high sugar content and produces wines with rich, stone fruit character and an excellent floral freshness. It also has an ability to age and is a grape that is all but suited to the cool British climate.

Ortega - Another grape well suited to the cooler climes of Northern Europe and resolutely frost-resitant. It produces a wine of soft character with strong Peach flavours abundant. Another grape which can provide wines for cellaring and often contributes to 'late-harvest' dessert style wines.

Madeleine Angevine - This is another grape chosen for it's characteristics that help it flourish in a cooler climate. It's another good cropper and prefers a cooler climate and n this occasion, this is a grape that produces wines with noticeably low acidity. It is rarely seen on it's own for this reason and contributes to blends with higher acidity grapes.

Vines at an Ickleworth  Vineyard
Photo: Dave Catchpole (CCL)
Pinot Noir - The noblest of the noble grapes with the capacity to produce some of the subtlest and most interesting wines the world over. Here in Britain it is widely planted but in the main is preferred in the production of sparkling wine but it has been known to appear varietally. Where it does appear it produces wines of understated character with light colour and aroma with red fruit and specifically raspberry flavours and the better cropped will allow for some oak ageing.

This is a just a little of the English wine industry and things are improving all the time. Millions have been spent in the vineyards to improve knowledge and wine making techniques and due, perhaps rather unfortunately to global warming, the overall climate in Britain is improving. We're getting warmer all the time.

The picture is looking rosy for English wine and if the sparkling wine industry in particular keeps going from strength to strength we could be in for an interesting future. We may soon have a climate suitable for the production of international grape varieties with the "indigenous" grapes gaining an improved reputation for producing interesting and consistent, good quality still wine.

Curious Brew: An English Winemaker's Venture into Craft Beer

Ok, so I’ve got to admit, I know nothing about wine. I know what I like, (an Alsace Pinot Gris). Problem is, England is about 480 miles from Alsace, and I can’t find any English producers of Pinot Gris. So when Laura asked us all to write a piece on English Wine Week I panicked and thought ‘there must be a way I can write about lovely, tasty, hoppy, malty, cuddly beers.’

Then, a brainwave hit. Ouch.

The answer to my puzzle is ‘one of England’s Premier Wine Producers, ‘Chapel Down’. Last year they introduced a new brand called ‘Curious Drinks’, which, guess what, produces cuddly, lovely beer.

The range is brewed by Everards; the Leicester-based brewer, under close supervision from the guys at Chapel Down. The reason, I imagine, is to test the water in brewing before jumping in and building a brewery at their enormous visitors site in Tenterton, Kent.

Their flagship ‘Curious Brew’ is a malty, dry lager re-fermented with Champagne yeast. This yeast gives the lager a large-bubbled head that dissipates quickly. A 'dosage' of the refreshing Nelson Sauvin hops from New Zealand demonstrate this is a beer brewed with winemaking principles. There’s definitely a presence of the champagne character both on the nose and the initial taste. Its dry, refreshing, and is everything you want from a niche lager.

The second beer is an amber-coloured, triple-hopped IPA, with a beautiful buttery-caramel flavour that hits you straight away. It’s similar to the taste sensation of an un-oaked Chardonnay (maybe I do know a thing or two, eh?) and after initially thinking it was the weakest of the three, it’s now my favourite.
There’s almost a smoky, whisky character to it. It is, however, more Pale Ale than IPA.

The third is the ‘Curious Porter’; a toasty, warm London-style dark beer, matured on oak chips with a burnt hazelnut flavour. It’s a lot fresher and cleaner than a lot of Porters out there, and I finished the bottle wanting another 3 or 4.

As Darren, the Sales Manager for Curious Drinks and I agreed, the word ‘Craft’ is ambiguous. For me it’s a beer produced with good values & ingredients with a strong niche brand and demonstrates brewing talent. For others it’s a beer that is produced on a small scale by a few guys in a converted shed with a couple of vats. Truth is, it’s both of those things, and it’s not about persecuting bigger companies for introducing beers with those values. Chapel Down have demonstrated that they can turn their hand to Craft brewing, and with the addition of a Curious Cider coming at the tail-end of the Summer, they are really pushing their new brand.

Chapel Downs’ share prices have struggled in recent years, and I cant help but think their venture into beer provides the company with a more consistent revenue stream; they’re not reliant on grape harvests, which, apart from 2013, have been pretty bad in recent years.

I loved the range; the Porter and the IPA in particular. ‘Curious’ is a strong brand and they aren’t diluting it with numerous brews, but instead sticking to three (soon to be four) core products that work really well. I do wish that they’d rebrand the ‘fashionable at the moment’ IPA a Pale Ale and add a Wheat variant, but these beers are great.

'Curious Brew' is available throughMajestic, currently on Special Offer at only £14.99 for 12, and the 'Brew' and 'IPA' are available on draught in freehouses across our green and pleasant isle. You can also buy the Curious Beer range direct from Chapel Down's website - it's £36 per 24 bottles.

Monday, 26 May 2014

English Wine Alternatives To Everyday Favourites

Photo: Paul Simpson (CCL)

Hello and welcome to English Wine Week! It's a very exciting time of year for people like us who champion English wine as it slowly gains the popularity it deserves.

A lot of people think English wine is going to be mead or fruit wine or the kind of stuff your Uncle Barry used to make in his shed from grapes he bought at Tesco, but... while it is all of those things, it's also some GORGEOUS up-there-with-the-best-of-them wines that will blow your mind, and that you could (and probably should) drink a lot more often alongside wines from more established wine-producing countries.

To ease you in, I've compiled a little list of English wines that are similar to better known varieties, in a little 'If You Like That, Try This' comparison for people that would like to try English wines but don't know where to start. The good news is all of the wines I recommend are available at UK-wide wine merchants, and if you pop into your local wine merchant they'll almost certainly have a few too.

If you like Sauvignon Blanc, try... Bacchus

Most of the best English wine estates produce a wine made solely from the Bacchus grape - it's probably the grape that earns us the greatest renown in still white wines (particularly single-varietal ones).

It's a very aromatic wine, often with grassy and elderflower-like character that is common in sauvignon blanc, and it's particularly fresh and appealing when grown in cool climates (English weather scoring its first ever win, there).

As I said, you'll find this grape at most of the good English vineyards, but I'd say a very safe starting point is Chapel Down in Kent. One of the most famous and most awarded English producers, it's available quite widely. Check with your local Majestic or indie merchant, or buy Chapel Down Bacchus from The Wine Society for £11.50.

Alternatively, try Lavenham Brook Bacchus for £11.49 from your nearest Adnams.

If you like Champagne, try... English Sparkling Wine

Most people think English fizz is going to be cheap bubbles, but you are way out, my friend.
The best English sparkling wine is made from the same grapes, grown on the same soil and made using the same methods as Champagne - it's not called Champagne purely because it's not made in the Champagne region, not because it's a lesser wine.

You'll find the same delicacy, purity, crisp fruit and soft brioche-like character in good English sparkling wine as you will in Champagne - and usually you'll get a lot more bang for your buck, too.

Two of the greatest English fizz producers are Nyetimber and Ridgeview, and you can buy them pretty much everywhere, major chains and supermarkets included - the only thing to watch for is they'll vary wildly in price. A quick google search will show you can get this wine from old favourites like The Drink Shop and The Wine Society, but some of the best deals I've found are:

Nyetimber Classic Cuvee 2009 - a delicious, poised wine that's a great introduction to the brilliance of the Nyetimber range. Pick up Nyetimber Classic Cuvee for £26.99 from Adnams or £23.98 from Majestic if you're buying two wines from the '33% off' range.

You can also pick up the flagship Ridgeview Merret Bloomsbury for £24.99 a bottle from Waitrose Cellar or Ocado.

If You Like Barbecue-Friendly Red Wine, try... English Dornfelder and Rondo blends

English red wine still has a very bad rep (as I discussed last year) and it is surprisingly hard to find a good one, but they're out there.

They're mostly made with pinot noir, dornfelder and rondo, and with a lick of oak and careful blending they can be juicy, smoky and a little bit spicy, making them really great with a barbecue or light Sunday roast.

Bolney Estate tends to lead the way on the red wine front - the Bolney Estate Dark Harvest (a lovely, lightly-oaked red with oodles of character) is available at Ocado for £8.99 - for less than a tenner it's worth a try, right?

You can also get Bolney's Lychgate red at Yorkshire Vintners for £10.50, or direct from Bolney Estate for £10.65.

If You Like Inexpensive Chardonnay Blends, try... Tesco Finest English White

We've said it many times before - if in doubt about a new genre of wine, go for the supermarket 'best' ranges, because they'll have made sure they've found a good example at an accessible price.

A perfect place to start with your exploration of English wine is the Tesco Finest English White for £8.99. Like the Bolney above, this is a bit of a steal at less than a tenner, a presents good quality for this price.

It's made by Denbies - another big name in English wine - and is a blend of chardonnay, bacchus and two other solid grape varieties grown in England (ortega and reichensteiner, if you want to be geeky), which gives it a pleasing complexity. Plenty of apple and pear aromas and crisp, grassy, floral character that makes this a refreshing match for light summer foods like salads and chicken dishes.

If You Like Pinot Noir, try... English Pinot Noir

This country is just starting to hone its craft when it comes to producing sophisticated reds from the pinot noir grape, and it's certainly not at Burgundian standards yet, but it's making some pretty tasty examples.

Gusbourne Estate is probably the most famous and successful of the English pinot gang (as far as I'm concerned) and they're certainly achieving the cherry and strawberry flavours you'd expect from good examples of the grape, with a little complexity from some time in oak too.

The price varies from vintage to vintage, but you can grab Gusbourne Estate 2011 from BBR for £17.45, or the 2007 Gusbourne Pinot Noir for £19.75 at Field and Fawcett. You can also pick up some Gusbourne Pinot from Selfridges for £23.99. You'd probably spend that much exploring the lower-end of Burgundy anyway, so why not give something English a try?

I hope these comparisons help anyone looking to try more English wine - if you have any of your own comparisons, please let me know in the comments!

Friday, 23 May 2014

Friday Cocktail: Midori Splice Cocktail

Midori Splice - just like a Pine Lime Splice only better!

Many of you will not have heard of the Midori Splice cocktail before - I think it's an Aussie thing, much like chicken salt, Fantales, Cheezels and 'goon'.

Having taken inspriation from the Pine Lime Splice - an Aussie delight of ice cream on a stick covered in a frozen fruit flavoured ice - the Midori Splice recreates the textures and flavours in one delicious, summery adult drink.

The Pine Lime Splice is my childhood. Growing up I spent many days on the beach - sun on my skin and wind in my hair - and more often than not there was ice cream involved. The Splice was my number one choice for so long I can't even remember, and even now a visit home isn't complete without one.

Living in the UK, it's been too long since my last Midori Splice cocktail, but on a recent trip to Asda I spotted the luminous green Midori bottle out of the corner of my eye and I had a sudden urge to make one.

Midori, which helpfully means 'green' in Japanese, is a sweet melon flavoured liqueur around 20% abv. Given it's so sweet, it's not normally drunk neat, but rather mixed with lemonade, lime juice, pineapple juice or used as part of a cocktail (we've used it before in a June Bug and it makes great green Halloween cocktails!)
 Its vivid green colour makes it truly unmistakable and its vibrancy and tropical flavour makes it perfect for summer.

Midori Splice cocktails for two - just add sunshine!

For two Midori Splice cocktails you'll need:

  • 4 parts Midori melon liqueur (£11 at ASDA)
  • 2 parts coconut flavoured rum or liqueur (a 35cl bottle of Malibu is on offer at £6.50 from ASDA too at the moment...)
  • Pineapple juice to top
  • Coconut cream to float on the top
  • Ice cubes to shake

It's super easy...

1. Add Midori and coconut liqueur to a cocktail shaker with some ice
2. Shake it, shake it until combined
3. Pour into a tall glass or jar
4. Fill to the top with pineapple juice
5. Over the back of a spoon, add a tablespoon of coconut cream so it floats on the top
6. Add a couple of straws and enjoy

Celebrity Wine: Miraval Rose - Is It Worth It?

Okay, I know the Miraval rose has been out for a while now, but Vinspire finally got our cheeky little paws on a bottle (well a magnum, but that's neither here nor there). 

Many of you may not know that Miraval is owned by a celebrity couple. Brangelina (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Idiot) no less! While 'they have a large hand in making the wine', the brains behind the outfit is the Perrin Family from Chateau de Beaucastel in Southern Rhone. 

There seems to be a trend for celebrity endorsed wines to absolutely smash sales and demand a price tag that requires a house remortgage and the sale of three kidneys to buy a case. More often than not however, the quality doesn't match the price point. So is the Miraval worth the hype? 

With rave reviews from the likes of Jancis Robinson MW, it's certainly garnered itself a decent reputation. But we all know the only review that really matters is ours, so here we go!

The Miraval Rose has an amazing depth of flavour unlike any rose I've ever had. The delicate pink tinge is typical of Provence rose as is the nose of red berries and vanilla, but with unexpected whiffs of stone fruit and hints of fennel. The palate is incredibly complex with initial red berry fruit mingling with white peach and apricot while it's herbaceos notes of fennel and garrigue add a touch of surprise and complexity. It also has a lovely creamy texture which marries all the flavours together nicely.

Overall I was thoroughly impressed with the Miraval. Normally I struggle to pay anything over £8-10 for a rose - at £17.99 from Majestic, it's certainly a step up from the normal Provence price tag, and sure the celebrity backing adds a few quid, but this is a damn fine rose that stands apart from the rest. 

Kudos to you Brangelina, this almost makes up for Mr and Mrs Smith. Almost.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Review: Grasovka Bison Grass Vodka

My introduction to Bison Grass Vodka was at a concerningly young age in my Great-Grandfather's home in Poland. It was the early 90s, and my parents had gone off to sample some of the dubious restaurant cuisine in the area (Polish food in the 90s. Can you even imagine..

"We are going to drink this, and then drink some more, and you will learn to drink and no man will ever be able to take advantage of you."

Whilst many of you may cringe with concern that this was the natural approach, this is the country with proverbs such as ""Hey hillbilly boys, don't fight. The girl will dance with both of you!".

We drank a bottle and a half between three of us. I don't remember the incident, but my family tell this story as a way of explaining what I do for a living.

From this incident onwards, Bison Grass Vodka has been, as in most household in Poland, a staple for me. A lot of Vodka is drunk in Polish households, but Bison Grass Vodka is a particular Polish speciality. 

Bison Grass Vodka is now in every pub in the country, diluted with Apple Juice and called a Frisky Bison (people who name cocktails are Tabloid Headline School rejects). I once went drinking with some plumbers from Wigan in a Wetherspoons in Manchester and all the guys had ditched lager for Bison's. 

In my head I romantically imagined it was like the Accrington Benedictine phenomenon, but it's much more simple than that. The influx of Poles into Britain following its inclusion into the EU, coupled with the already residing Polish community had made Vodka cool again. Gone were the days of Smirnoff being the only choice on optic, nowadays even your most basic pub has an array of vodkas from all over the world.

Poland still rules though, and at all ends of the market, from Belvedere to Wyborowa and every price point in between.

Crucially, Grasovka and others like it are NOT flavoured vodka. They aren't cheap confections from the mind of a marketing team, desperate to keep you interested in their product (Hello Absolut), this is a vodka with a distinct flavour, redolent of cinnamon and baking spices, which is entirely down to the traditional production method and peculiarities of the raw materials.

The base is rye, which gives it a more viscous and intense palate than other grain spirits, and most Polish vodkas fall into either the rye or potato category. A tincture is then added made from Bison Grass, which is usually from the Bialowieza Forest in the East of Poland. 800 Bison roam this forest, 'living' on the grass, giving it's unique flavour (maybe don't think too hard about that bit when enjoying it). This has been made in Poland from the 14th Century, put that in your pipe and smoke it, Absolut Coffee.

Grasovka may not be as well known as other counterparts, but in tastings it does incredibly well, still having the viscosity and perfume making it an enjoyable vodka to drink neat. Keep it in the freezer, and don't shoot it. Vodka's like this are meant to be drunk as you would a cognac or a whisky.

BUT. Does it pass the Polish test? Grasovka sent me a sample which I downed when already passed with a friend of mine who doesn't get vodka, and I couldn't recall if I had thought 'this is great' because I liked it or because it was one of those nights where everything tastes good.

As a result, I bought a bottle myself and took it down to a Polish gathering in Manchester where it was drunk at lunchtime, neat, straight out of the freezer accompanying Bigos (a sauerkraut, venison and sausage stew). It passed with the younger contingent, but it crucially passed with the 90 year-old who used to make it herself in a garage in a town that's now part of Belarus, not far from the Bialowieza forest.

"Frances, kupuję 6 proszę."

"Frances, I will buy 6 please" - what more do you really need to know?

You can buy a bottle of Grasovska Bison Grass Vodka from The Drink Shop for just £20.14. It's also in Waitrose for £20.

Talking Tonics: Fever-Tree

Despite working in the wine industry, possibly my favorite drink of all time is a good Gin & Tonic. Light, refreshing, packed full of flavour and perfect at any time of the year.

Taken from Rahul under the CCA
But what makes a truly perfect Gin & Tonic? Hendricks? Warner Edwards? Sipsmith? Gordons? These are all very valid suggestions as they are certainly up there with my favorite makes of Gin.

However, what many people seem to forget is that the drink isn't just called 'Gin'. It's a Gin AND Tonic, so it is reasonable to suggest that you cannot have a truly great Gin & Tonic without a truly great Tonic.

Now, usually I am content with a tin (always tins) of Schweppes Indian tonic water from the supermarket. It is a great, go to Tonic and does what you ask of it. Despite this being a 'starting point' Tonic, at around £5 for 12 cans, it is hardly a 'bargain'. Plus, you have to buy lime or cucumber on top of that (if you have lemon with your G&T, please leave now).

So this time, when stumbling into the tonic section in my local Tesco I cricked my neck up to the top shelf to see what light may shine down on me. Walk in, Fever-Tree.

Premium Indian Tonic Water
How can you make a 'great' Indian tonic? Surely they all taste pretty much the same! Wrong, it is all about the quality of the quinine (the tree of which produces quinine is known as the 'Fever-Tree', hence the name), must be clean and have fantastic carbonation. This has it all and when mixed with the Gin of your choice it will sing its praises. It really helps you get the best out of your Gin.

Elderflower Tonic Water
Elderflower for me is hands down the nicest squash to have with fizzy water. It is the perfect (non-alcoholic) hangover cure. I've never had it in a G&T though....... Weird. I have to say, I was pretty bloody smitten. The sweetness of the elderflower blended beautifully with the natural bitterness of the quinine and it gave it a delightfully floral aroma. A match made in heaven. For me, however, the bitterness from a G&T is it's defining and moreish characteristic. I felt this did slightly take it away from a true G&T and made it something different. Delicious, none the less.

Lemon Tonic Water
Taken from Chinwei under the CCA

Basically Posh for 'bitter lemon'. A great drink, but I find bitter lemon a bit too overpowering for the subtlety and freshness required in a G&T. Also, I feel the flavour of lemon and the acidity from it clashes with the quinine whereas the slightly fleshier, more forgiving taste of lime is spot on. However, the quality of the Fever-Tree version on bitter lemon is darn impressive.

My posts tend to be a bit of a morality tale. So, as always, a bit of advice.

'Take time when choosing the interior of your drink. But don't forget to build the walls first.' 

That was pretty good, eh? May start a cult! I did study Philosophy after all.

Fever-Tree is readily available in both Tesco & Waitrose in 100ml and 500ml bottles.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

J. J. Prüm vertical tasting 2011 - 2001

A few months a fellow blogger that I know (thanks Ant!) tipped me off about a tasting that West London Wine School were undertaking. He knew that I was a big fan of German wines and the tasting that he brought to my attention was a tasting of one of the most famous producers (J. J. Prüm) from one of the most famous German wine areas (the Mosel). As soon as I saw the list of wines that we were going to taste I booked a ticket immediately. There was no way that I was going to miss this.

The session was led by the charismatic and charming Jimmy and there were about 25 of us in the room. Jimmy noted that there was a time when a tasting of German wines would have been quite sparsely attended, but this no longer applies; indeed, there were double the number of attendees at the Prüm tasting then there were at his last Bordeaux white wine tasting. The image of German wine, it seems, has finally recovered from the damage done in its nadir of the 70s and 80s.

Jimmy gave us a lot of very interesting, useful and, often, first-hand information about the Mosel and the Prüm Weingut - both of which he has visited. In recent times as German wine producers have set about righting the wrongs of the 70s and 80s there has been a move away from producing off-dry and sweet wines towards the drier end of the spectrum; the modern wine palate evidently craves dry white wines. 

The Prüm family, however, have stuck to their guns and even their Kabinett (traditionally the driest wine) is off-dry. Their focus is on producing wines at the sweeter end of the scale; Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese, etc., for more information on this (I know it can be confusing), check out Wikipedia on German wine classification). 

According to Jimmy, when Wine Searcher listed their top 50 most expensive wines ever, three of these came from Prüm - more than any other producer. These wines can have an extraordinarily long life, it is possible to drink them when they are young, but most connoisseurs will tell you that you need to wait at least twenty years to allow these wines to really express themselves! In fact, some Prüms from the 19th century are, apparently, still drinking rather well!

During the tasting we made our way through nine different Prüm wines. Before I go through them individually I would like to make the following general points:
  • As these wines all tend to be on the sweeter end of the spectrum, they tend to be relatively low alcohol (I think they were all less than 10%). This makes them excellent pudding wines or for an aperitif.
  • The real hallmark here was how, even as the wines got sweeter, the balance of the wines was preserved through the drive of the acidity in them. They really did avoid the trap that some sweeter wines get into when they can become cloying or even unctuous. These were light, charming and refreshing.
Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett Riesling, 2011 (£20 from Hedonism wines): Pale looking, it has a mixture of green (apple) and stone (peach) fruit. Certainly exhibited aspects of minerality. On tasting it was rounded and soft from the sweetness, but the acidity gave it a fruity kick. Lovely fresh finish. 7.5/10 - easy drinking and pleasant, also very good value for the price.

Graacher Himmelreich Spätlese Riesling, 2009: We had it when it was just opened and it exuded a characteristically Prüm "burnt match" aroma. Slightly held back on the nose, with some floral notes coming through as well as the fruit. 7.0/10 - pleasant, but not a show-stopper.

Wehlener Sonnenhur Spätlese Riesling, 2008 (£26 from Fine and Rare Wines): Complex and aromatic on the nose; not as much fruit present. Mineralic elements still present, with a marmalade style flavour and a balanced finish. 8.0/10 - slightly more complex.

Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese Riesling, 2007 (£30 from Fine and Rare Wines): A touch more golden then the previous wines. Completely different nose, twinge of sulphur with a touch of spice - intriguing. Juicy and fruity to taste, with more tropical (mangoes) and honey notes coming through. The acidity was less pronounced here, but still in good balance. 8.5/10 - definitely more developed than the 2008.

Graacher Himmelreich Auslese Riesling, 2005 (£32 from Fine and Rare Wines): This was heady, fruity, aromatic and complex. There was a whole spectrum of fruit present here, all the way from green fruit to tropical. On tasting it was elegant and poised with the sweeter fruits coming through, I got nectarine and mango. 9/0/10 - wow, just wow! This is considered one of the great recent Riesling vintages and this wine was just delicious. Whilst certainly not cheap, I would say that this is priced very reasonably for what is an exceptional wine.

Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese Riesling, 2005 (£52 from Fine and Rare Wines): This wine was markedly different from the last, despite being the same vintage. It had a noticeable sulphur note and was much more reserved on the nose. On the palate it was a little more full-bodied than the GH and a touch sweeter. 8.5/10 - we felt that this was a wine that wasn't quite expressing singing yet, it is going to take more time to come through than the GH.

Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese Riesling, 2003 (£42 from Fine and Rare Wines): From an extremely hot vintage, this was more musty and mineral on the nose, with a lot less sweetness coming through. 7.5/10 - I felt that this was a pleasant wine, but not nearly as remarkable as some of the others.

Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese Riesling, 2001 (£70 from Cadman Fine Wines): This was rich and yellow to look at, with slight bubbles present. Had a distinctive petroleum smell, which was followed by a bucket-load of fruit; a very complex bouquet. On tasting it had slightly more power than previous wines. There was a hint of marmalade on it, but with a swoosh of acidity which gave it great balance and a lovely clean finish. 9.0/10 - elegant and classy, this was voted the class's favourite wine (although it wasn't mine)

Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese Goldkapsel Riesling, 2009 (£57 from The Wine Society): This had more colour in it than other similarly aged wines. On the nose it was heady and intriguing, with tropical fruit notes; but on tasting it came alive! I wrote down on my notes that this was a sexy wine - supercharged Riesling! The Prüm Goldkapsel brand is produced from their highest quality grapes, hence the mark-up on price. 9.5/10 - this was clearly infanticide, whilst it was fantastic now it is only going to get better; if I had the means I would have no hesitation in buying a case of these and trying to forget about them for the next twenty years...

There you have it - what a tasting! The great thing about this for me was that I really felt I got to know the wines from this estate and appreciate how they develop over the years. I should also note that there were some exceptionally tasty and well thought out nibbles provided, which were very welcome. Thanks to Jimmy and the team for putting on such an excellent tasting - you can find a list of upcoming tastings at West London Wine School here.