Friday, 26 September 2014

Event Review: Cocktails in the City London

Back at the end of July I had a sneak peek of the Cocktails in the City event in London and I was blown away by the standard of the bars represented and the diversity of the cocktails on show. Last week, I attended the main event in the Grand Hall in St Pancras, just opposite the grand Renaissance Hotel in London, and was equally impressed.

Stepping into the Grand Hall felt like the beginning of a good night out - dim mood lighting, open space and music loud enough to provide atmosphere but without drowning out conversations. With DJ's pumping tunes from start to finish, Bubble Dogs providing delicious food, Smith and Sinclair sampling cocktail jellies and Harvey Nic's with nail, hair and beauty technicians on hand to provide SOS makeovers, it wasn't just about the tipples.

The tickets for entry were just £12.00*, which included a recipe and information booklet, plus one complimentary cocktail - a steal considering you have to pay to get into some London venues before you even reach the bar. All other cocktails on the night were an affordable £7.00 each and with the best of the best bartenders from top London bars under one roof, why traipse across London on buses and tubes when you can stay in one place?

Powder Keg Diplomacy working their magic.

Having spied a few new cocktails added to the recipe book since the preview event, the already substantial offering was even more appealing and it wasn't simply a case of duplicating what I'd already tasted. In addition, there were four cocktail workshops (at no extra charge) giving insider tips on making cocktails at home, identifying different styles of cocktails, cocktails of the USA and the best of British cocktails.

The perfect aperitif? Powder Keg Diplomacy does it again.

To begin the evening we visited the team from Powder Keg Diplomacy after enjoying their tipple so much at the press event.... one old favourite didn't hurt! Let's call it an aperitif that gave us time to read the cocktail recipe book - crucial for planning your evening to ensure maximum cocktail pleasure.

Then it was over to meet the team from Rivington Grill - in Shoreditch and Greenwich - for their Allez Islay; a cocktail of The Botanist Gin (from the island of Islay), celery bitters and a spray of Bruichladdich (single malt, also from Islay) stirred with ice and served with a spritz of lemon. Clean and simple yet with a complexity from these quality ingredients - a powerful start to the evening.

After our aperitif, we headed up to the balcony for the 'Cocktails at Home' masterclass - half an hour of tips to make use of what you've got at home to create high-standard cocktails. Don't have a cocktail shaker? Use empty baked bean cans. Don't have a strainer? Use a sieve or simply use a chopstick to hold back the ice when pouring. Fancy spritzing some lemon to finish your cocktail? Why not use a simple spray gun rather than a fancy diffuser.

The aim of the session was to encourage us cocktail amateurs to think outside the box when experimenting at home. Keen volunteers made martinis, mojitos and french martinis in front of a crowd, which showed just how easily it can be done. I've got my baked bean cans and chopsticks lined up ready!

The Teddy Hook Punch from the team at Punch Room.

Amongst the many cocktails I was able to 'sample', I fell head over heels for The Teddy Hook Punch from the Punch Room team at the Edition Hotel. Drinks at Punch Room (nestled at the back of the hotel,  and in the style o a manor-house library) are by reservation only so as someone who rarely makes reservations anywhere, it was a treat to get a glimpse of their style. A luxurious punch made from Martini Gran Lusso, grappa, lemon juice, hibiscus tea and basil water, this was so much more than the tropical fruit punch of family get togethers. I may just have to make a reservation after all.  

The Teddy Hook Punch from Punch Room.

So that's it, the party is over for another year, and in just their second year in London, the Cocktails in the City team have put on a spectacular show. If you're north of the border, you're in luck, Cocktails in the City is yet to visit and on October 23rd, the party continues in Edinburgh. For more details about the event, and how to buy tickets, visit the Cocktails in the City website.

*Please note I did not pay to attend this event so big shout out to Katie at Cutlass Comms for the invitation.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

BOOM: Bourbon & Coke Beef Brisket Recipe

Let’s not beat around the bush, we all love Bourbon; be it on the rocks, in an old fashioned, or even mixed with coke. Now other than drinking delicious booze, cooking with it is another favourite of ours at Vinspire, and I’ve got just the thing for all you Bourbon buffs out there. Vegetarians look away, this one’s for carnivores only: Bourbon & Coke Beef Brisket!

One lazy Sunday morning, possibly after one too many wines the night before, I decided that it would be a good idea to cook a super duper dinner to console my self-pity and get me back on top form for work the next day. It had to be a dish that I could whack in the oven, forget about for numerous hours, and then hello; awesome food made with minimal effort.

Pulled pork is everywhere at the moment - not surprising really as it’s so frickin’ good – but because of that, I wanted to go for something a little different. Having seen a recipe for Root Beer Brisket in Harry Eastwood’s ‘A Salad for All Seasons’, and not having any root beer, I thought I’d change it up and make it into something Jack Daniels himself would be proud of.

The bourbon of choice for me, somewhat controversially, was Lidl’s Western Gold Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey. It won ‘Silver – Outstanding’ in the International Wine & Spirit Competition 2012, and ‘Silver’ at the International Spirits Challenge in 2013, and at around the £13 mark, it’s pretty decent for the price. It’s probably most like Jim Beam and in classic Lidl form the label is VERY similar.

I opted for Fentimans Curiosity Cola (£1.19 at Tesco) to go in too; I thought that the more traditional herbal, ginger infused cola would add a better flavour than your average coke, but by all means use what you’ve got.

Cooked low and slow (6 hours!), using all the kind of staples you’d have in your kitchen – no lengthy list of crazy herbs and spices here – this is a seriously easy dish to make, you’ve just got to be patient... And trust me, it’s worth it.

I shall warn you now, with the heavenly smells oozing out of your oven, you’ll be watching the timer like a hawk, begging it to hurry up. Tummies will be rumbling and mouths salivating as you take it out of the oven, and the ultimate satisfaction (other than eating it) comes when you touch it with a fork and it all pulls apart with ease.

Truth be told, I made this over a month ago, and served the sweet sticky Bourbon beef with some flatbreads and homemade slaw. I froze the leftovers and had it again last weekend - prompting me to share the recipe with you - this time in a brioche bun (£1 for 4, Tesco) with lettuce, pickled carrots, and a generous dollop of soured cream. Oh, and chips obviously.

The Bourbon & Coke Beef Brisket has such a rich deep flavour that it works perfectly with fresh, salad-y accompaniments, but as the nights are drawing in and there’s a chill in the air, I can see this being amazing on top of some creamy mashed potato... Comfort food at its finest.

Enough’s enough, here’s how to make it:

Bourbon & Coke Beef Brisket
(Serves 6)

  • 1.5kg beef brisket
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 5 cloves garlic, smashed and roughly chopped
  • 100g shallots, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 10 allspice seeds, or 2 tsp ground allspice
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 60g soft brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp tomato ketchup
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 250ml coke (I recommend Fentimans Curiosity Cola)
  • 100ml bourbon

  1. Preheat the oven to 140°C/120°C fan-assisted/275°F.
  2. Fry the beef with the oil in a very large casserole pan until golden all over. Remove and set aside. Add all the other ingredients to the pan (garlic, shallots, allspice, salt, sugar, ketchup, cayenne pepper, coke and bourbon). Stir over the heat to dissolve the sugar, and let the flavours get to know one another.
  3. Add the browned beef and any juices that may have formed from resting to the pan. Put the lid on and place in the centre of your preheated oven. Leave it there for 3 hours and don't be tempted to have a look during this time; it'll be fine.
  4. After 3 hours, give the mixture a good stir (scraping any bits that may be are stuck at the bottom) and turn the beef over. Return it to the oven for another 3 hours. When its 6th hour is up, take the casserole pan out of the oven and set aside for 10 minutes.
  5. Remove the brisket and place in a large shallow dish/serving plate. With two forks, pull the meat apart, and then pour over any thick syrupy juices that are left in the pan. Serve in whatever way you see fit!

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Scottish Independence: Glenfarclas 15yr

Well, the votes have been counted, the news is in and this kingdom is continue as a united, yet fractured and slightly begrudging household. I see this is a good thing with various murmurings prior to voting that Scottish independence could cause a rise in prices of single malts - and nothing, boys and girls, is worth that...

As a nod to all those disappointed "Yes" voters I felt it would be good to take a look at a whisky from a vehemently independent distillery; Glenfarclas.

Glenfarclas is located in the Highlands and is famous for it's heavily sherry-matured whiskies - this is especially notable as it is often mentioned above its compatriot distilleries of Speyside who also specialise in that style.

The distillery was founded in 1836 and was bought in 1865 by John Grant. The Grant family still own and run the distillery, which is no mean feat, and particularly notable in an industry that is being taken over by the Diageos and Pernod-Ricards of the world.

On the nose, firstly there is a huge cooked and dried fruit kick with some dark rum aroma thrown in. Then there's citrus peel, nutmeg and cinnamon, with some mint as well, and a big whop of fino sherry blended just slightly with some olorosso. The overall effect is a complex and full-bodied nose that has great maturity and quality in depth.

On the palate there are raisins and nuts, rich, sweet spices, orange peel and a big splash of more sherry (pale cream this time) on top. This a wonderfully rich and full-bodied dram with a finish that lasts for days.

It is bottled at 46% (also, no added colour) and benefits from the slightest addition of water, as this helps bring out sweetness in toffee, marzipan and exotic fruits. The finish on this whisky, especially before the water, just lasts for days and is really amazing.

Glenfarclas is a very steady and somewhat traditional distillery, and while it has engaged in some innovations (such as being amongst the first distilleries to open a visitor centre), there is basically no crazy cask finish experimentation - all the whiskies are sherry matured.

This reliability and steadfastness is commendable whilst countless other distillers are becoming overly stylised, fashionable and over-egging the pudding whilst not stumping up in terms of quality.

This is an epically robust and full-bodied whisky that is pretty much Christmas cake in a bottle. Perfect for the winter or for celebrating continued relations with our Scottish cousins.

You can buy a bottle of Glenfarclas 15 from Master of Malt for £41.12 or from the Whisky Exchange for £45.45

Monthly Merchant: Break out the British Bubbly

Photo by the wonderful Kasia Burke Photography

It's over to Tasting Room Bath - our Wine Merchant of the Month for September - to round off a month of brilliant wine recommendations...

For our final Wine Wednesday we want to go out with a bang - a pop, shall we say, of corks and fizz!

One of our favourite tipples of the bubbly stuff has to be this fabulous Avonleigh Organic Sparkling (£19.95). We’re a big fan of promoting things that are local and organic, and this super drink ticks both those boxes. It comes straight from a vineyard in Bradford on Avon, nestled in the Cotswold hills, and purists will be happy to learn that it’s planted in organic soil. The result is a distinctive and wonderfully fresh elderflower hint, and the fact it’s been produced using Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes gives it a pop of green apple flavour. What two better tastes to sum up our english summer, already fading into memory?

So raise a glass to approaching autumn; warm firesides and kicking up leaves - and a glass to Vinspire UK for having us as their September independent producer! We hope to be back one day.


This was written in collaboration with Social and Cocktail - you can read more of their guest posts here.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Drink Trends for 2015

Wanna be hip and on-trend next year? Here's what a lot of you will be drinking - and how - in 2015!!


2015 will be a defining year for wine producers, as we'll see lower ABV wines and calorie-conscious wines making a break. With alcopops on the decline, you're still going to want something easy going, fruity and light, but without being caught with your gums around a Bacardi Breezer (are they still even around?) or a Tropical VK (bleugh!)

Expect more fruity wine infusions (like the fresita sparkling strawberry-infused wine), sparkling zinfandels (not massively exciting) and the 125ml measure becoming increasingly acceptable.

We're going to see more experimentation in labelling with wine, built on the success of spirit and beer labels. Wine has always been traditional in its labelling, but with companies such as Some Young Punks (you can buy their amazing wines by clicking the advert to your right>>>) demonstrating that it's possible to have a great wine in a brilliant looking bottle, other brands are looking to break the norms even more.


The craft movement will continue to grow in 2015, with more big brewing conglomerates muscling in on the act (did anyone see Guinness brought out two 'craft' porters - a Dublin Porter and the West Indies Porter - a couple of weeks ago?) as they finally accept that craft is here to stay and is a long-term threat to everyday brands.

We'll see lots more canned beer in pubs and bars, and a move on from the incredibly popular IPA. Expect to see more Belgian Farmhouse-style beers like Saisons and Sours, and also American Amber style beers with fruity, malty aromas. Botanicals are also huge for 2015, so expect more beers infusing the likes of juniper into the mash, just like Meantime have, partnered with Chase Distilleries to produce the UK's first (but not last) Botanical Beer.


Well, it looks like 2014 marked the end of the big rum revival, however, the biggest trend of 2015 will be in that of the spirits category. As craft and small-batch distillers make a name for themselves, more and more producers come out the woodwork with fancy bottles, infusions and spirits that defy categorisation. Lots of retailers are getting on board too - Waitrose has always had a great spirits range, but Majestic are about to launch a MASSIVE new range of craft spirits.

The popularity of gin is fever-pitch at the moment, and as such we're going to see much more mixing with gin, and also, different garnishes. Expect to see lots more botanicals infused at the point of serve, with things like juniper, berries, cardamom, cinnamon, tea etc. I've got a great blog coming up in the next couple of weeks on this. Stay tuned!

English whiskey is beginning to make a name for itself, and certain vintages will come-of-age in 2015. Some of them are going to be good enough to rival the best of the Scottish single malts. Grab yourself a bottle on the Masters Of Malt website.


Glassware continues to evolve and define drinks categories, and a good glass adds to the experience of a drink. Craft spirits are still pushing forward, and the typical hi-ball glass just doesn't do them justice. American Prohibition continues to dominate trends in beer, spirits and glassware, and next year we'll be seeing lots more balloon glasses, allowing you to get really involved with the aromas of your drink. Check out these ones from Tanqueray.

We'll also be seeing lots more cut crystal glasses (like THESE from John Lewis); perfect for serving sophisticated ready mixed old-fashioned cocktails from the likes of The Handmade Cocktail Company from Tunbridge Wells (their 2014 Negroni is incredible).

So, it looks like 2015 is going to be an exciting year for the drinkers out there. There are also a few smaller trends which will bumble along. I don't know about you, but I'm very excited to be sipping on just a few of these...

Monday, 22 September 2014

Top 5 Drinks Venues to Visit in York

Let me first start off by saying; York, I officially love you! As a southerner I've always been adamant that London is the best city in the country. Two weeks ago, however, my perception of the greatest city on Earth was definitely challenged.

Everyone knows York for its rich history, beautiful buildings and a big ol' Minster, but this tiny city is also a drinker's paradise! I only had 3 days in this wonderful city but found some absolutely astounding places that are worth necking 4 pints and standing on a table to shout about.
In no particular order, here's my run down of top 5 places to visit when inside the wonderful walls.

1: Demijohn.

One of 4 branches throughout the UK, Demijohn is an independent spirits boutique boasting a massive range of weird and wonderful liqueurs and spirits.

Upon entry you're greeted by a site that would be more at home in an alchemists lab than a shop. Huge boiling flasks filled with liquids of all different colours adorn the walls with empty potion bottles of all different shapes and sizes line up just waiting to be filled.

Now, most places will let you sample something as long as you have the intention of buying lots of it. This is where Demijohns not only stands out from the crowd, but makes the crowd look like one big gelatinous blob behind a shining example of brilliance. YOU CAN TRY EVERYTHING FOR FREE!!

Now this doesn't mean that you can go in and get hammered for nothing, that's just not cool. Their passion is in what they sell and they want everyone else to share in that. A few highlights include rhubarb vodka liqueur, bramble scotch liqueur, ginger wine and some of the finest mead to have ever graced my palate. Find them on Museum Street just over Lendal Bridge.

2: The Whippet Inn.

A cosy yet contemporary feel with some down right hilarious wallpaper choices, this bar and restaurant (located right next to the river just off Mickelgate) offers only the finest in Great British produce paired with a cracking wine list, a great choice of real ales and a spirits list including 30 different gins!

I thought 30 was a bit excessive but then I thought, gin is brilliant so the more the merrier. Literally! With a menu that includes 40 day aged rib eye steak, it's no wonder this place has won restaurant of the year 2014 after just one year of trading.

This place is in high demand so if you do want a table here, make sure to book at least a couple of weeks in advance! If you're just looking to while away a few hours in the cosy bar, pop in for a real Yorkshire ale or a glass of Nyetimber to carry on the Great British theme.

3: Milkshack

One for the tee-totals, or those that just fancy something sweet to try and soothe that hangover, no trip to York is complete without heading over to Milkshack, the finest milkshake joint in the city.

Now this isn't just any milkshake place. Imagine a place that has near enough every single sweet and chocolate bar under the sun. Now imagine that you can take any combination of these and have it blended into ONE BIG AWESOME SHAKE! That's what Milkshack does and they do it well. It's not just chocolate either, I even saw someone order a Parma Violet shake. Of course I had to question them as a human being but I was still astonished that they had such things on the menu. If you're of the bodybuilding mind set then you can even add extra protein.

You can find Milkshack on Church Street.

4: The Lime House

This one is not only for the wine lovers, but for the thrifty wine lovers. Initially enticed by the outstanding menu, I then got even more excited when I saw this restaurant's wine list. Having seen that I then nearly wet myself when I saw the prices.

Usually it's customary for restaurants to put fairly ridiculous mark ups on their wine. Something that they buy for £5 will probably end up costing you closer to £20. It's true that the further down the list you go, the less the mark up. The Lime House however, seem to have hit the nail on the head.

Boasting some excellent fine wines at some utterly outstanding prices means this place is not only foodie heaven, but also drinky heaven! The two highlights for me were The Crusher Pinot Noir from Clarksburg USA, (usually around £12) on offer for £23.50 and The Chocolate Block Boekenhoutskloof from South Africa which usually sells for around £25 for £32.50! That's insane! You really do need to book to eat here as I nearly found out to my own peril. Find them on Goodramgate, just down from the Minster.

5: The House of The Trembling Madness

Last but certainly by no means least comes possibly my new favourite place in the entire world and that includes my own house.

This tiny looking shop front on Stonegate boasts an off-licence, a beer shop, a spirits shop and somehow manages to squeeze a pub in there as well. Oh, and to top it all off, they do some amazing food.

I'd heard about this place before, having received a rave review from my Dad. Naturally it was my first port of call upon arriving in the city.

Having entered the shop and bought myself tobacco for the evening I spied what looked like a modest selection of beers at the back. What actually greeted me was an enormous range of around 600 beers from all over the world. I even did a little cry.

Make your way out of the beer room and up the stairs and you will find yourself in the bar, a tiny little nook of a place with people pretty much sat on top of each other. Get to the bar and you're confronted with taps that you would never see on a high street including Brooklyn Lager, Timmerman Strawberry Beer and of course, the guest beers, which for me was Blackjack Brewery.

Not only that but you can buy any beer from downstairs and have it in the bar! Go back downstairs - and then down again - and you'll find the spirits range, or as I like to call it, El Dorado. A glittering wall of the finest amber colours shining out like beacons of deliciousness.

This truly is a place you have to experience for yourself. Whenever you're in York, head to Stonegate and find them there, you will not be disappointed.

These are just a few of the amazing places that this city has to offer. York is a place that is begging to be explored so once you do, you will unearth some absolute gems.

York, it was a pleasure.

Found anywhere else awesome? Let us know in the comments.

Stellacello 'Pompelmo' Liqueur

Remember a couple of weeks ago when we told you about a British Limoncello from Demijohn Liquid Deli? Well, we’ve discovered another cracking ‘cello; Stellacello’s signature Pompelmo Liqueur.

Created by Joe Stella in East London’s Bethnal Green, the Pompelmo Liqueur is an inspired – and dare I say it, more interesting – take on the traditional Italian Limoncello. Using grapefruit as opposed to lemons, the citrusy fresh tipple can be enjoyed as a classic apertivo or digestivo, or even as a unique cocktail component. For the keen eyed food/drink folk amongst you, you may well have spotted Stellacello being served at this year’s YBFs (Young British Foodies), which took place earlier this month.

Grapefruit might have had a bit of a bad rep in the past; it’s that old school virtuous healthy breakfast option – just half though, heaven forbid – and we’ve all seen those limp segments lurking in a bowl in the hotel breakfast bar. Well, I think we’ve moved on from that now, and Stellacello’s Pompelmo Liqueur is a fine example of making good use of the fruit.

I foolishly presumed that the liqueur would be of a similar appearance to Limoncello, expecting a cloudy pastel liquid, tinged pink thanks to its grapefruit-y contents. But no, this is much more refined; a clear honey-amber colour, which wafts sweet zesty aromas as its poured. This drink has style, and you can tell that from its amazing label; any booze with Jesus on has got to be good, right?

My other half seriously dislikes anything to do with grapefruit, but this he really enjoyed. There’s no lingering bitterness that you get with the fresh fruit, and no unusual peel-like taste that you can often pick up in Limoncellos. It’s a well rounded drink which slips down so smoothly, yet it still packs a boozy punch in its percentage – 28%.

After sipping it neat, straight from the freezer as recommended, I decided to try it out in cocktail form. The Stella Spritz, which takes the Pompelmo Liqueur and tops it with Prosecco and a splash of soda, featured on Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch for their ‘summer aperitif’ drinks section in May 2014, and also British GQ Magazine in July as one of the ‘three London aperitifs you need to sample this summer’. Lengthening it with the crisp, peachy sparkling wine brings out more of a sweet citrus flavour, and it develops a delicious orange-y marmalade scent. Still retaining the overall signature grapefruit tart-ness, it’s a refreshing alternative to a traditional spritz, and I can imagine its versatility would make for a lot of interesting cocktails.

If you’re out and about in London, Stellacello is served in some of the best places; Polpo Group (Polpo, Polpetto, Spuntino, Ape& Bird), Ottolenghi Islington, Groucho Club Soho, Lardo Hackney, Coppa (Roof Top Pop Up) Hackney, Pizza East various locations, Forge&Co Shoreditch, London Cocktail Club, Sager+Wilde Shoreditch, The Gun Hackney and The Prince Stoke Newington. It’s also available outside the capital at Salt House Bacaro Liverpool. I suggest you grab a bite to eat and treat yourself to a fine digistivo.

Alternatively, if you want to buy a bottle (50cl), which retails for around £25, hit up Borough Wines, London Borough of Jam, Craved, The Fox’s Knocker, The General Store, or World of Zing.

I’d say Stellacello’s Pompelmo Liqueur can smugly wave at its lemony cousin; it’s one good looking grapefruit. P.S. Look out for the release of Stellacello's Amaro coming soon..

Stella Spritz (serves 1)

1 part Stellacello ‘Pompelmo’ Liqueur
3 parts Prosecco
Serve over ice, add a dash of soda, and garnish with a slice or grapefruit/orange.

Lead image photo credit: ©Moritz Steiger/Made in London

Friday, 19 September 2014

5 Top Cocktails for a Girly Hen Party

Photo: Hotel de la Paix Geneve (CCL)

This is a guest post from Social and Cocktail - you can read more of their guest posts here! And we're dedicating this post to our lovely writer Lucienne, who got engaged at the weekend! Congrats!

Well, that’s it. The pictures of ‘The Ring’ are all up on Facebook, there are 147 ‘Likes’, and you’ve just been asked to be the Maid of Honour. You can now look forward to 11 months of torture and a Whatsapp group dedicated to shoes and hairpieces.

But everyone knows the most important thing about a wedding is the Hen Party. And a sure fire way of getting everyone into the mood (along with questionably shaped anatomy straws) is with a bit of booze. Here are the Social and Cocktail Top 5 Hen Party Cocktails…

Appletini – It’s pretty, it looks kinda posh, and it’s lovely and sweet with a fruity twist. Plus, it’s apparently the official drink of Facebook - perfect for all those bridal photos that will soon be up…

Strawberry Daiquiri – A great option for those members of the party that are new to cocktails, this is sweet, easy to drink, looks great and has a delicious kick of rum that you just can’t say no to.

Woo Woo – Hen Parties should be about fun, and sometimes sophistication should go out of the window. This is where the Woo Woo comes in – a good time in a cocktail jar.

Raspberry Mojito – A bit more of a refreshing option, and for the more discerning cocktail drinker. All the great taste of a mojito with the added zing of raspberries.

Cheeky Vimto – This final cocktail is for the end of the night when the pink boas are shedding feathers and the L plates have slipped. Unapologetically boozy, brash, and with no class whatsoever, it’s a way to finish a raucous night.

Don’t forget – if you’re having a Hen Party and want some help with the cocktails, Social and Cocktail can help with your planning! Take a look at the packages here.

Gorgeous Grenache Wines for International Grenache Day 2014

The French say Grenache, the Spanish say Garnacha, we say whatever it reads on the label! However you want to introduce it, Grenache is one of the world's most widely planted red grape varieties, and I like it. A lot.

Often overlooked, and in my opinion underrated in the UK market, we're taking the time to celebrate this hero as today is International Grenache Day!

About Grenache

Grenache has a preference for hot, sunny and dry conditions due to its late ripening, and typically produces juicy red wines with a red-berry (strawberry, raspberry) fruit flavour, white peppery spice and soft tannins.

Red Grenache wines are relatively high in alcohol and are often blended with other varietals such as Tempranillo in Spain or Shiraz and Mourvedre (Mataro) to make the 'GSM' blend commonly found in Australia. Many of us wine geeks look to Grenache wines as a partner for classic British dishes like sausage and mash or shepherd's pie.

Simply Garnacha enjoyed last night!

 Though the current weather doesn't quite match the character of the Grenache grape (lounging around in the sunshine), it's the perfect transitional wine from summer to autumn.

Grenache vines thrive in hot, dry, sunny conditions

Though probably better known for producing red wines, the talents of Grenache don't stop there, as its also used to make rose wine, notably in France (Cotes du Rhone) and Spain, plus white wines and even sweet wines.

There are also two mutations of the original Grenache grape which are widely planted in France and Spain - Grenache Blanc and Grenache Gris. Responsible for producing white and rose wines, these two often produce wines with high alcohol and low acidity. Grenache Blanc is often blended with other white varietals to give the resulting wines flavour and length and Grenache Gris produces light rose wines, usually in France.

My Grenache Recommendations

Given that Grenache is so commonly found as part of a blend and often hidden from limelight, it rarely gets the credit it deserves. Having featured many blends including Grenache on Vinspire before, I thought it more fitting to pick a few of my favourite single varietal Grenache wines to share with you as we pop a cork (or twist a screw cap) to celebrate International Grenache Day.

Let me begin with Tesco own label Simply Garnacha just £4.79 per bottle. I simply can't go past this for good value for money - it does what it says on the label and the Simply label is the key message.

Outrageously juicy and full of redcurrant fruit flavour, it's a simple, fruity red. At £4.79 we're not expecting complexity and subtle oak ageing - so just enjoy it for what it its.

Also from the Tesco range, but from their Finest* label is the Tesco Finest* Cotes Catalanes Grenache from the Languedoc-Roussillon - currently on offer at £5.99 per bottle. Again, it's great value for money and displays the juicy, concentrated character of the Grenache grape beautifully, with a subtle spicy finish.

It's far too easy to drink, and I've enjoyed this on many occasions from dinner with friends to curled up on the sofa on a cold winter's night - its the ultimate all-rounder and definitely one for the shopping trolley.

Tipping into the 'something for the weekend' price bracket as opposed to the 'everyday drinker', Majestic Wine have come up trumps for me as they're currently stocking d'Arenberg's The Custodian Grenache 2011 and it's included in their 'Mix & Match 2 bottles, save 25%' promotion bringing it to £10.49 per bottle.

With soft cherry and raspberry fruit on the palate and a sweet perfumed aroma, Chester Osborn has shown that Grenache is truly at home in McLaren Vale. If you're a fan of Grenache, this will not disappoint. Save for rich, hearty, herby stews or a rich duck dish.

In keeping with the South Australian theme, one of my all time favourite Grenache wines is the Yalumba Bush Vine Grenache, currently available at Morrison's Cellar for £11.99 per bottle. Full of cherry and spicy plum flavours it packs a punch at 14% but remains silky smooth and fruity like all good Grenache.

From vines between 35 and 70 years old, this beaut is matured in French oak barrels to impart a subtle oaky spice. One to savour on its own or with a slow roasted lamb shoulder or smoked duck.

Whether you're on a budget or feel like splashing out there is a Grenache to suit, so pop a bottle in your basket - virtual or real - and celebrate one of the unsung heroes of the wine world, Grenache.

The Grenache Vines image is taken from Phil_NZ's photostream on Flickr under the Creative Commons license.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Cooking with Pedro Ximenez

Last Christmas I received a bottle of sherry from my sister-in-law who lives in Andalusia and who knows a thing or two about sherries.  It was a Duquesa Pedro Ximenez Sherry from Romate, a Bodegas that was founded in Jerez in 1781. This style of sherry is made from Pedro Ximenez (PX) grapes and is at the sweetest end of the sherry flavour profile. It is a drink that I enjoy very much.

I decided to open the bottle recently; it is a delicious sherry that spends over five years maturing in bottle before it reaches you. On tasting it you have a silky-smooth and warming mouth-feel and a taste that has that characteristic PX flavour of raisins. The trouble for me is that we were given a whole bottle of it - I can understand having a nice chilled glass of this on a warm summer's afternoon, or maybe after pudding on a cold winter's night; but knocking back a whole bottle seems a little much. I read up about PXs and found that unlike a Fino sherry they don't need to be finished within a day or two of opening and can last a little longer (upto about a month or so according to most sources I read). This being said I thought I would use this opportunity to get a little creative, why not try using this delicious sherry in some food? After all, it is a common adage that sherry needs to be matched with a food to bring out its best - surely in food would be good too?

With this in mind I used last Sunday as an opportunity for a little culinary experimentation.

Braised Beef in a Pedro Ximenez and Red Wine Sauce
(Serves Four)
500g Braising Steak
Four Carrots (cut into medium sized discs)
Two Medium Sized Onions (chopped coarsely)
Four Cloves of Garlic
Bay Leaves
300ml Pedro Ximenez sherry
300ml Red Wine
Salt and Pepper
Vegetable Oil
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 160 degrees (fan)
  2. Place a handful or two of plain flour in a bowl and add some salt and pepper. Add the braising steak and mix the beef around to make sure that all of the pieces have a good coating of flour.
  3. Place an oven-proof dish on the hob and heat a good slug of oil up nice and hot. Add the beef in batches and brown all of the pieces. Once the beef is done put it into a dish to sit for a while (importantly the dish will catch any juices that come out as you want to keep these).
  4. Add a touch more oil to the pan and then add the carrots and onions. After a couple of minutes add in the garlic (I always add the garlic slightly later to make sure that it doesn't burn).
  5. Once the vegetables have softened nicely throw the beef back in and then add a decent bunch of thyme, a couple of bay leaves, the PX and the wine (I don't use all PX in this recipe as it will be too sweet otherwise). Season.
  6. Bring the mixture up to a gentle boil and then turn off the hob. Put a lid on the dish and then transfer it to the oven to gently cook for about three hours. After two hours, get it out to check it - you might need to add a splash or two of water just to stop the sauce reducing too much.
  7. After three hours, the beef should be nice and tender and the sauce should be rich and deep and sticky. Serve with mashed potato for a good hearty meal.
The PX does give a definite sweetness to this dish so you don't want an austere, dry red. Instead serve with a big, bold and fruity red - I think something Australian or South African would do the trick nicely here!

Bubbling away                                                Tasty!                

Vanilla Ice Cream and Pedro Ximenez
This pudding is simplicity itself, I got the idea from a post I saw on The Wine Wankers' site. The name of the dish tells you everything that you need to know really. The result, although from a simple dish, is surprisingly satisfying. I would recommend that you chill the PX before drizzling it over the ice cream. The booziness and sweetness from the PX really compliments the creaminess of the ice cream and transforms it into something glorious and decadent.

I'm sure that there are many other desserts that one could make with this lovely bottle of PX (a take on a treacle sponge springs to mind) but this appealed to me as it was so simple and yet so effective.

All that's left for me to do is thank my sister-in-law for the lovely Christmas present... Gracias, Diana!   

A New Wine Price Comparison Site: Introducing Bring A Bottle

Those annoyingly catchy Compare the Meerkat adverts (and annoyingly ANNOYING Go Compare ads) prove that as a nation we love to save tons of money - but these days it extends to more than just your car insurance. You can make savings on pretty much everything if you know where to look.

And now - THANK HEAVENS - you can save buckets of cash on wine, beer and spirits!

Bring a Bottle is a brand new, free price comparison website for booze. It lists the prices of your favourites at all the major supermarkets as well as at Majestic - so if there's a cracking offer on, or if your local supermarket is charging way too much, you can be the first to know.

It does feature lots of well-known, big brands that we aren't too keen on (if you do like them, go check out the Bring a Bottle site - you'll often find big names on offer for what they're actually worth) but what really excites us is the huge range of really decent producers that you could save £££s on!

For instance...


The Cono Sur Bicicleta Pinot Noir - a wine Matt has raved about before - is just £5.50 in Sainsbury's at the moment, saving about £2 per bottle on the other supermarkets!

And the site also drew my attention to ASDA, who are now stocking the Heartland Stickleback White - a fantastic Australian wine that I thought was lost from UK shelves - AND it's only £7 at the moment. Well worth picking up a bottle of that to try if you haven't already.

And I'll certainly be keeping my eye on the price of the Tio Pepe Fino Sherry - a brilliant example of this dry, nutty aperitif that is often far less than its usual £10.


That gorgeous Brooklyn Lager (one of Sam's Top 5 US Beers) is on offer in Waitrose at the moment - it's £1.43 down from £1.79, which is 20% off in total and much lower than the other supermarkets!

I was also excited to spot the Einstok White Beer (which I wrote about a couple of months ago) has a cracking offer on at Majestic right now - it's £9.99 per 6-pack if you buy two (normally £12.99 each), so you'll save £6!


If you love a drop of Hendrick's gin, but usually don't shop at Sainsbury's, you might want to swing by your nearest store pretty sharpish - they sell it for £26 a bottle, which is up to £7 cheaper than the other stores!

What about if you're stocking up on whisky for Christmas (or Christmas presents?) It might interest you to know that Morrisons appear to be having a bit of a whisky sale at the moment. The Balvenie Doublewood 12yo (one that Hugo wrote about a while back if you want tasting notes) is £30 - around a £4 saving on the other supermarkets - and the Aberlour 10yo is only £30 too - a whopping £12 less than it is at Sainsbury's, Waitrose and ASDA!


What about some bubbly? If you've got a special occasion coming up, there are some cracking deals creeping through the supermarkets at the moment!

Louis Roederer Brut Premier NV currently has a whopping third off at Majestic when you buy two bottles. It works out at £29.98 each - whereas it's upwards of £39 at other stores!

Sainsbury's also wins at Laurent-Perrier right now - it's £28, which is £10 less than other shops.

What about a nice bottle of English fizz? We've told you how much we love it before - and now you can try a bottle of the gorgeous Chapel Down Brut for £14.99 at Waitrose - between £3-8 less than the other supermarkets. Hooray!

Teething Problems

There do seem to be some glitches with the site in its early stages - the odd red wine in the white wine section, and some issues where Majestic savings have finished but are still being listed - but the site is pretty new, so I'm sure these will be ironed out.

But all in all, this site has earned itself a firm place in my bookmarks - especially when I'm looking for something in particular - and it's a great way to make sure you're drinking the best wine possible at the lowest price.

Do you know a wino or gin freak that would love to know about this wine and spirits price comparison site? Share it with them using the buttons below!

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

How Higher Living Teas Made Me EXCITED About Tea!

As I sit here writing this, I'm just finishing off a cup of sweet chilli tea, and I'm already looking forward to my next one. But which type of tea will I choose? I've never had so many options.

This is what Higher Living teas have done to me. It's sent me cuppa-crazy, into a right tea frenzy, and to be honest I've never been so well-hydrated. So who are Higher Living?

Higher Living Herbs is a British company, based in Gloucestershire, that has been blending herbs for 45 years. This gives them an EXPERT eye for a smooth, satisfying blend in a herbal tea - something that I've found sorely lacking in other herbal tea brands.

They currently have 39 different organic blends (all of which can be purchased from their online shop, and most are at Holland and Barrett which is running  a 'buy one get one half price' offer!) - and they sent me a few of their wackier teas to try.
(So yes, I got some freebies, but no, I'm not being paid for my opinion. We only write about what really, genuinely excites us!)

Here's my roundup of the teas I tried:

1. Hibiscus Bliss tea
(£2.09 per box at Higher Living)

The hibiscus flower has long been a point of intrigue for many of us drinks fans - you can buy hibiscus flowers in syrup for a magical addition to a glass of bubbly - so I was excited to see what they taste like.

The result? Very fruity, but not sweet, with a bitter, rhubarby, raspberry tang. If you like fruit or floral teas, you WILL like this. I don't like fruit teas generally, but I really enjoyed this. Even so, this was my least favourite - but it was still tasty - so imagine how AMAZING the others are!

Good for: Fruit tea fans, people with pretty gardens, people who like making tea cocktails!

2. Green Chai Tea
(£2.09 per box at Higher Living, £1.99 at Holland and Barrett)

After my foray into green teas recently, I was looking forward to trying a new variation of the all-powerful, gives-you-energy-for-hours green tea. This one gave me even more than I was expecting.

So, don't shoot me down, but I've never had chai tea, so I didn't realise it was spicy. And the one thing I wished for a little more of in green tea is bold flavour. WELL, THIS GIVES IT IN SPADES.

The green tea is blended with cardamom, cinnamon, clove and orange peel - so when you drink it, IT'S LIKE DRINKING CHRISTMAS!

I absolutely love it - spicy but not too harsh, full of those lovely festive smells, with enough green tea character remaining to make his refreshing. This is going to be my tea of the winter.

Good for: Santa, reindeers, chestnuts roasting on an open fire...

3. Chamomile and Vanilla tea
(£2.09 per box at Higher Living, £1.99 at Holland and Barrett)

Now, I've had a variation of this before (with the addition of fennel - which oddly works) so this had big boots to fill.

It's got real bourbon vanilla in it, and you can really tell as soon as you take a sip. It's smooth, the vanilla is pure and naturally sweet, and it blends beautifully with the chamomile. A really lovely just-before-bed cup.

On all of these teas' boxes is a recommendation to steep the tea for 4-5 minutes to let the flavours really infuse - of all the ones I tried, I'd say this is the one where you really should give it the full 5 minutes. That vanilla is too good to miss.

Good for: Lazy afternoons, nighttime treats (with a cheeky biscuit).

4. Sweet Chilli tea
(£2.09 for 15 bags at Higher Living, £1.99 at Holland and Barrett)

Well THIS tea is SOMETHING ELSE. I should probably point out that this was one of the teas I was least looking forward to - the ideas of tea and chilli mixing didn't really do it for me.

But - as I've said before - Higher Living are master blenders, so it's not all about the sweet chilli: there's also ginger, licorice, cinnamon, fennel and most importantly cocoa.

Chocolate and chilli have been partnered together since the Aztecs, and I quickly discovered there's a reason for this: this tea gives you a tingly tongue, a burst of autumnal spices, and then a creamy, chocolatey, spicy warmth at the back of the throat. It's heaven - one of those teas where you can savour every sip - and a huge surprise for me.

Good for: warming up after a trip out in the rain, and sipping after dinner.

Moving on, they also sent me some of their super-swish teapees too, and there's lots of goodness yet to come:

5. Green Tea Lemon
(£4.79 at Higher Living, £4.99 at Holland and Barrett - but the Higher Living range is 'buy one get one half price' at the moment)

More green tea! These guys really know how to make it interesting, too. Another one I was dubious about - I'm not a fan of hot lemon - but this was another one I knew would appeal to the fruit tea drinkers who wanted the added goodness of green tea.

Again, I was pleasantly surprised: the lemon in this isn't sweet or sickly a la lemsip, it's juicy and fruity with a sour tang, like the real thing. I really think it worked well with the refreshing nature of green tea, and it made me feel all good inside.

Good for: lemon lovers, those who like a G&T (add some of this to it, ice cold, you won't be disappointed...)

6. English Earl Grey
(£4.79 at Higher Living, £4.99 at Holland and Barrett)

Again, I DON'T LIKE EARL GREY. I knew this would be a struggle - the flavours of earl grey and I just don't mix.

But I can tell you that this is a pure, aromatic tea that was the most balanced earl grey I've ever had (in my somewhat limited experience, granted) and I really think Earl Grey fans will love this.

Good for: Suave Englishfolk, people who wish they were suave Englishfolk

7. Peppermint and Licorice tea
(£4.79 and Higher Living, £4.99 at Holland and Barrett)

Yet ANOTHER thing I thought I didn't like - licorice. I mean, I really hate it - I never eat it, I didn't even like smelling it, and I certainly didn't relish the thought of it in my tea.

But this was a revelation! It turns out licorice goes really good with peppermint - they have similarities in character but also compliment each other. This tea smells very pepperminty, but also has a whiff of something richer (which is where the licorice comes in), and tastes the same - long, fresh, cleansing but warm and rich too.

Good for: People with tummy troubles, fans of the aromatic, people who like a nice surprise...

8. Sweet Dreams tea
(£4.79 at Higher Living, £4.99 at Holland and Barrett)

I'm rounding off with the ultimate bedtime tea, and this stuff is the shiz - in fact, it's my favourite of the entire delicious lot. I'm basically addicted to it.

AND YET when I first read the ingredients, I was not attracted to them, in fact I was dreading them. The first four ingredients are peppermint (okay), roobois (never liked it), lavender (I'm drinking stinky flowers?) and licorice (bleurgh) - followed by cinnamon, cardamom and natural caramel flavour.

We've talked about Higher Living being genius blending wizards before, but this tea really is the shining example of that: you get every single flavour cascading and mingling one after the other with exquisite smoothness, and you're left with a delicious, sweetly-spicy caramel finish.

The sweet spice of the cardamom blends with the satisfying warmth of cinnamon and ginger, which are in turn lifted by the aromatic peppermint and lavender and smoothed out by the roobois. And the caramel is just an added, delicious flavour that laces it all together.

I LOVE it and I'll be drinking this one for years to come (along with several of the others).

Good for: flavour fans, people who like snuggling up with tea in front of the telly, and basically everyone.

All in all, Higher Living teas are definitely one to watch, and I'm so glad I've found them. They really have changed my entire attitude to tea - no longer will I stick the English breakfast and view speciality teas as a fad that disappoint on taste - these are the real deal and I can't recommend them enough. They're a cheeky bargain too...

Other Higher Living flavours to look out for:

Apple and Ginger
Good Mood
Vanilla Chai