Friday, 31 October 2014

Cooking With Booze: Plum and Cherry Brandy Tarte Tatin

Sticky, boozy, plum and cherry brandy tarte tatin. Yum!
Want a simple, boozy dessert to impress friends this weekend? 

Take a few plums, sugar, butter, pastry then add cherry brandy et voila, you have Plum and Cherry Brandy Tarte Tatin.

Well, there's a little technique but even the most novice of cooks can do this one...

First, let's start with the (second) most important ingredient, the cherry brandy. I've used Tesco Finest* Cherry Brandy, a) because it's absolutely, lip-smackingly delicious and b) it's only £9.00 for a 50cl bottle.

The Tesco Finest* Cherry Brandy is a rich, full liqueur made from a blend of Morello, Challonaise, Iragana, and Black cherries, macerated in French brandy. You should be able to find it on the shelves of most larger Tesco stores - if not now, then definitely in the lead up to Christmas.

  • 1 x pack ready-rolled puff pastry (chilled, not frozen)
  • Approx 8 ripe plums, stoned and halved
  • 50g of butter
  • 50g of caster sugar
  • Pinch of cinnamon
  • A good glug (probably 1/4 cup) of Cherry Brandy


1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees celcius.

2. Melt the butter in a tarte tatin tin (or medium sized frying pan) on a medium heat on the hob, stirring in the sugar once melted and the pinch of cinammon. Add the cherry brandy, stir to combine and simmer for a minute or so.

3. Gently place the halved plums flesh side down (skin side facing up) into the liquid mix and leave to cook on the hob for about 10 minutes. You can give the pan a shake or use a spoon to coat the plums in the caramelised juices. Take of the heat as the sauce starts to thicken.

4. Unroll the pastry sheet and prick all over with a fork before gently (but quickly) laying it over the plums. Taking care (the juices are super, super hot) trim the pastry to leave a rim of about 2-3cm then tuck the pastry into the tin/pan so it is snug around the plums.

5. Bake in the middle of the oven for about 20 minutes or until the pastry is risen and golden in colour. When done, leave in the tin to set for about 5 minutes before loosening the pastry edges from the tin/pan gently with a knife.

6. For the 'voila!' effect carefully turn the tarte out onto a plate by placing a large plate over the pan and quickly but gently flip. The tarte should come out easily and oozing with caramelised juices.

If you've got leftover bottles of other liqueurs in your liquor cabinet, you could also try these other combinations - just substitute the brandy in the recipe above.

  • Apple and calvados
  • Apricot and apricot brandy
  • Pear and perry
  • Quince and Cointreau/Grand Marnier
  • Plum and damson gin

Good luck and have fun experimenting!

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Brilliant British Beer: Ticketybrew

First of all let me apologise to all of you and especially Ticketybrew for what I am about to say because I'm sure they've heard it a million times before, but their beer really is Tickety Boo.

Born of a love of bottled beer and inspired by trips to the spiritual home of beer (Belgium), Ticketybrew was started up by husband and wife, Duncan and Keri Barton, believing that taste comes not only from the hops used but from everything else.

They take a very free spirited approach stating ,'Whatever you can taste in our beer - you're right!', which if I'm being honest makes my job of reviewing it so much easier! I could tell you it has notes of 3 year old hand soap and a badgers sullen sense of self loathing. However I  remain as professional as ever and give you lovely people the facts.

Thanks once again to those marvellous folks over at Best of British Beer (who are fast becoming my favourite people in the world - sorry Mum and Dad) who have sent me their absolutely stonking 12 beers of Christmas to try.

More on that next week, for now however I'm giving you the heads up on Ticketybrew which I found inside said case. I had the pleasure of tasting the Blonde and the Dubbel. 

Pale golden in colour with a creamy head in both colour and texture. The nose is light and refreshing with notes of orange and pink grapefruit. The palate is refreshingly zingy with those citrus notes coming through in abundance followed by lightly spicy notes of white pepper. Beautiful summer beer but also good in the living room in front of the League cup round of 16.

Dubbel is a style of beer I have rarely come across. Originally brewed in Belgium by a Trappist brewery, the Ticketybrew offering is lightly hopped with the majority of the flavours coming from the yeast and malt. The nose throws up smoky chocolate notes and rich sourdough.

The palate leads with flavours of black cherry, cola and yeasty notes. The finish is long and bitter with a charcoal smokiness and a rich chocolatey texture. If I had to compare it to something else I would say it's a long the lines of a ruby ale without the fiery notes.

With so many independent breweries in the UK alone it can be hard to establish an identity. By drawing their inspiration from outside the UK beer scene and making some truly awesome beer Ticketybrew have set themselves to be one of the big boys of UK craft beer scene. And just as a little end note, their labels are brilliant! 

Ticketybrew is available in a mixed case for £28.80 from Best of British Beer.

Cocktails and Cuisine: Shoryu, London

Welcome to Cocktails and Cuisine - our new series on eateries with a cocktail list as good as the food! When you want to enjoy top notch nosh with a great drink then our 'queen of the eating and drinking scene' Rebecca Milford has some great recommendations...

Venue: Shoryu Ramen

The Cuisine: Asian, Raman

Perfect For When You’re Feeling: Like you want something hearty, warming and packed with delicious flavour. The food here is fresh and caters for just about everyone’s taste - you can’t not find something to enjoy. The restaurants are always buzzing with groups, couples, and individual diners - their ramen is so good people are happy to sit slurping solo.

Location: The appearance of four restaurants since opening in 2012, including posts in Soho, Carnaby Street and Regent Street, show just how popular Shoryu have rightly become.

Menu Concept: This place is all about the Hakata Tonkotsu ramen - and if you haven't yet sampled it then you’re in for a real treat. Is it a soup? Is it a noodle dish? Is that a perfectly gooey boiled egg, glinting with sunshine-brightness from between slices of BBQ pork? You can answer yes to all of these questions, since these winning ingredients combine in a deep dish, together with rich pork broth, to make for a mouth-watering meal. These guys are also famed for their Shoryu buns, and for good reason. The pillowy soft mounds of dough have built up a fan-base for being packed with succulent fillings and amazing sauces.

Cocktail Contributions: Following on with a suitably Asian theme, they pride themselves on a great selection that includes the Wasabi Martini, the Tokyo High Ball, and the Samurai Rock. The sweet-yet-fresh Mojito Loves Japan! is perfect with the tasty saltiness of the ramen and is a fine accompaniment to a meal.

What We Scoffed: The special Halloween Menu is not to be ignored, as it brings together some of the tastiest items for your dining pleasure. Begin with their fabulous Spooky Shoryu bun that is presented in a particularly quirky fashion - we can heartily recommend the char sui pork. The Dracula ramen is like no bowl of the stocky-stuff you’ve tried before. Packed with garlic and balsamic to give it a slightly darker tint, it packs a flavour punch stronger than Buffy at a vampire boxing competition. We finished with the indulgent yet light Matcha green tea cheesecake, the crunchy base of which worked brilliantly with the gentle and slightly earthy aftertaste of tea.

What We Quaffed: There is also a limited autumn cocktail menu that make the most of the bounty of the season with a frothy, spiced and sweet Pumpkin Sour that evokes all the best things about harvest-time. Another autumnal cocktail we can heartily recommend in the Zen Garden - the delicacy of rose wine combined with refreshing cucumber and rosemary make for a perfect palate cleansing pre-drink.

Next Time: The wagyu beef Shoryu bun is a must try - the succulent strips of meat practically melt on your tongue. The Shoryu Tasting platter is also the perfect way to experiment with several of the nibbles they’ve mastered - karate chicken is gluten free, light and crisp, while prawn tempura are golden capsules of juicy heaven.

Atmosphere and Decor: There’s a bustling, lively vibe to the place which is helped by the competent staff making sure all diners are catered for, while no pretension whatsoever - people flock here for the food. Contemporary decor of pale wood and slate grey walls is lifted and given the clean authenticity with white paper lanterns.

Tell Me A Little More: Shoryu means ‘To bring good fortune’ – something your stomach will definitely attest to when you’ve finished!

What you’ll Instagram: A picture of the Spooky Buns, which are a real treat. Also take a snap of your ramen - with the bright colours of mixed ingredients it looks like modern art.

What You’ll Tweet: Just found the best ramen EVER – didn’t think a combination of noodles, stock, meat and veg could be so satisfying!

This is a guest post from the lovely guys at Social and Cocktail - you can read the rest of their posts for us here.

Theatre of Wine Tasting: Old Stalwarts versus Young Pretenders

I have been organising wine tasting sessions at Theatre of Wine in Tufnell Park, London (Vinspire’s Indie Wine Shop of the Month) for a couple of years now for the Wine Society of my amateur orchestra: the (somewhat-misleadingly, grandly-titled) Camden Symphony Orchestra Wine Society. I usually select a theme, run it by the chaps and chapesses at the shop and then let them do the hard work of selecting the wines and presenting them. The purpose of our sessions is not only to have some fun and quaff a bit of wine, but also designed so that we learn something about the wonderful world of wine. For our latest session I selected the theme: old stalwarts versus young pretenders; the idea was to  compare and contrast the styles of beloved, traditional power houses in the Old World with the up-and-coming, exciting New World parvenus looking to usurp their more traditional cousins.

The session was led by Jason, our erstwhile guide during these sessions, and assisted by Sam. In total we were eighteen tasters, all in high spirits (not at all linked to the pub that we convened in before the tasting) and ready to learn.

I expected that the tasting would go a little something like this: “here is a truffley, earthy Burgundian Pinot Noir, here is a fruity Otagan Pinot Noir – look they’re different”. However, this would be the obvious way to run a session like this and those clever clogs at Theatre of Wine eschew such banalities. Jason explained at the outset, that instead he tried to find Old World and New World styles that complimented each other, were priced as similarly as possible and were similar in more ways than they were different. This then made the decision about which you preferred all the more difficult. We were up to the challenge though.

So, onto the wines:

Challenge One – Riesling 

2013 Gunderloch Riesling Trocken from Rheinhessen (£15.30) vs 2011 Pegasus Bay Bel Canto from Waipura, New Zealand (£18.20)

The German Riesling was poised and balanced with good minerality to it, whereas the NZ Riesling was more obviously tropical-fruit driven and more body to it. For me, the preference to the wine would all depend on the occasion and/or the food you were having with it. I awarded the round to the German wine (quelle surprise), but most others in the group (including one German – tut tut) said they preferred the NZ wine.

Challenge Two – Chenin Blanc

2003 Eric Morgot from Savennières, Loire* (£23.50) vs Beaumont Hope Marguerite from Walker Bay, Western Cape, SA (£19.30)

Here we were comparing two wines that clearly had an age difference; the Loire wine was subtly perfumed with fruity stone fruit notes on the palate and an underlying nuttiness, whereas the SA wine was much more overtly aromatic with a lovely brightness to it. I’ve been slow to get into Chenin, but in this round I did particularly enjoy the SA wine and awarded it the win.
(* the 2009 is avaible from the Wine Society at £25.00)

Challenge Three – Pinot Noir

2012 Remoriquet Hautes Cote de Nuits from Burgundy (£17.60) vs 2013 Cantina Terlano from Alto Adige, Italy (£17.40)

In this round Italy was classed as a young pretender because Pinot Noir is a grape is not normally associated with the region. The Burgundy was actually quite disappointing, I found it too bitter and lacking in body; whereas the Italian wine had that lovely combination of red fruits and truffle to it, perhaps even a little spice and sweetness too. There was only one winner here.

Challenge Four – Tempranillo

2002 Decenio Rioja Reserva from Spain (£12.50) vs 2006 Mazza Tempranillo* from Western Australia (£21.00)

I found the Rioja wine surprisingly sharp and astringent despite a promising nose of vanilla, black fruit and chocolate. The Australian wine was deeper and smoother with nicely integrated tannins; it did cost markedly more money, but I thought that it showed a lot of class and upstaged its more famous counterpart.
(* the 2007 is available from the Wine Society at £19.00)

Challenge Five – Zinfandel/Plavac Mali

2010 Bura Dingac from Peljesac Peninsula, Croatia (£42.00) vs 2011 Ridge Lytton Springs* Zinfandel from Sonoma, USA (£33.50)

Jason threw us a real curve ball here. What can link these two wines? Well, apparently the little-known Croatian grape Plavac Mali is a direct relative of Zinfandel. The Croatian wine was incredibly confusing: slightly perfumed, oddly vegetal, oily/fishy notes coupled with seaweed and liquorice; it was unlike anything I’d ever tried before. The Sonoma wine was much more accessible, very fruity with a slight sweetness to it; it avoided falling in to that over-done trap that some Zins can stumble in to. I had to award the round to Sonoma, but the Croatian wine still intrigues me.

(* the 2011 Ridge Lytton Springs is available by the magnum from Majestic for £65.00)

So there you have it; four out of the five rounds that we went through I preferred the young upstart wine to the old stalwart. I would surmise that this is often because the old stalwarts tend to have a higher price tag for the same quality of wine as a New World equivalent. I think it also demonstrates the innovation and dynamism that underpins a lot of the most exciting producers in the New World and can sometimes be lacking in Old World wines.

I’d like to thank Jason and Sam, as ever, for hosting us so well and with such good grace (we can get a little rowdy…).

Note: all of the prices quoted above are for the prices in Theatre of Wine itself, which does not have an internet ordering service; but you can ring them up to make orders for UK wide delivery – contact details are available on their website.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

#WineWednesday: Theatre of Wine's Italian Beast...

Boo! Sniff! It's the last instalment from our amazing October Wine Shop of the Month, Theatre of Wine! They've delighted us with delectable bottles to try over the last four weeks and we now have quite the shopping list for our next trip to their London shops.
We hope you've enjoyed their suggestions - check back next week for a brand new Wine Shop of the Month

For now, here's Jason at Theatre of Wine's final recommendation for #WineWednesday...

Gioia al Negro Nerulum 2008, Italy - £13.40

A treat for lovers of full-bodied Italian reds, this week's recommendation comes from Basilicata in southern Italy and is made from the Aglianico grape.

More famous in the classic region of Taurasi - although that isn't saying much unless you're already an Italian wine specialist - this variety has often been described as producing the Barolos of the south, and with good cause since the wines are densely flavoured, aromatic and rich in acidity and tannin, with serious ageing potential.

The small Gioia al Negro winery is situated 600m above sea level in the Diano valley near the town of Lagonegro, and this particular cuvee is the estate's flagship wine. Aged for eight months in oak barrels and a further six in the bottle before release, the 2008 vintage explodes with earthy paprika, liquorice, fruitcake and a hint of balsamic reduction. 

A brilliant partner to oxtail in mustard sauce and a real hidden gem that's cracking value for money - just the way we like them!

Finally, before we sign off, if you've enjoyed these October recommendations please do email us to sign up to our mailing list and stay in touch with our tastings, and receive our Christmas 2014 offer which will include all the wines recommended this month and more, with up to 15% off for the festive season

And if you're ever in our neighbourhood, please drop in as there are hundreds more bottles like these in our shops...

Monday, 27 October 2014

4Spirits: 4Gin Tasting Set & Cookies 4Gin

What’s that? A gin tasting set, you say? And some sugary snacks designed to accompany it? Surely this must be a dream...

Thankfully, no, this really is a thing, and it’s all down to Spanish taste and flavour experimentalists, 4Spirits.

We’ve all heard about the ‘slow food’ movement, well 4Spirits are drivers of the ‘slow drink’ movement; promoting a new philosophy that combines pleasure and knowledge in tasting beverages. Their 4Gin product, which is “an exclusive version of aromatic cocktail bitters”, are perfect for those of us who like to savour the depth of a decent drink and experience the variety of flavours that nature offers us. The Cookies 4Gin add an extra dimension to the gin tasting, giving you texture whilst stimulating your taste buds with juniper, lemon peel and honey; essentially, it’s a botanical biscuit!

4Gin tasting sets are available in four varieties, each priced at €16 per box. One box contains 8 different botanicals, and a leaflet prepared by 4Spirit expert Sazerac, which details 5 combinations to play with: 3 unique G&Ts, and 2 special maceration recipes (which I’ve not yet tried). The black box is full of classic gin ingredients – cardamom, juniper, allspice, pink pepper, chamomile, clove, star anise and cinnamon sticks – the red gives you spice and strong flavours – ginger, Sichuan pepper, chilli pepper, saffron, caraway, black mustard, black pepper and nutmeg – and the green presents fresh and floral combos – ceylon, jasmine, rooibos, chamomile, linden, lavender, green tea and vanilla.

I was lucky enough to be sent a purple box, which contained sweeter, Mediterranean styled botanicals; coriander seeds, cassia, savory, rosemary, liquorice, tarragon, sage and cumin. I ruthlessly cleared my diary of any Saturday afternoon plans, got some glasses out, and set up my gin tasting station, complete with cookies!

Other than your 4Gin box, all you need is some tonic water, ice cubes, a strainer, lemon and orange peel, and gin of course! You really don’t want a fancy one with prominent flavours and complexity; Gordon’s would be perfect, though I used Tesco Finest Aromatic Gin (£17).

We’ve been ingrained with the phrase “don’t play with your food,” a favourite from parents across the globe, but 4Gin positively encourages you to play with your drink! I can’t describe how happy I was, adding a bit of sage to this, rosemary to that... And there’s enough in the box to make 8-12 drinks, so this could easily be done with a group of friends (aka GIN PARTY!).

I followed the recipes, which instruct you to put specific botanicals into a glass, add 50ml of gin and leave to infuse for three minutes, before straining over ice, adding tonic, and finishing it off with a garnish. 4Gin Purple makes an aromatic G&T, a dry G&T and an Old Tom G&T. 

The aromatic was smooth and well rounded, quite a contrast to the herbal dry G&T – both popular styles of gin – whereas the last was something completely different. With cumin and savory (related to rosemary and thyme), it was super spicy – not hot, but fragrant – and smelt as if it had come straight out of Morocco. I’d never tried anything quite like it!

The typical juniper that you don’t get in the mix comes at you in the form of the delicious cookies (€5.50 for a 125g box). The smell as you open the packaging is amazing, and the taste is just as good too! They remind me of speculoos biscuits, with that crunchy caramelised sugar kind of thing going on; they’re sweet, zesty, and gin scented... Could it get much better? No, I don’t think so either. (And if you’re not drinking a G&T, I reckon these would be lovely with an Earl Grey or Lady Grey tea!).

Now if you fancy following 4Spirits slow drink movement yourself, or are looking for that perfect present for a gin-fiend-friend, then look no further; this is it! 4Gin and Cookies 4Gin are just brilliant (and they deliver to the UK)!

Be free... experiment... and have a little nibble on the way!

Glasses with Class: MOOMIN GLASSES!

The older I get, the fonder I become for little bits of nostalgia that bring out the kid in me again.

I'm STILL the biggest Harry Potter geek (see this post about the Polyjuice potion hip flask for an example of my ardour), Christmas is still the most magical time of year for me (from about August onwards...) and the zoo and the seaside are still my happy places.

So imagine my JOY when I discovered one of my favourite childhood TV shows immortalised on a range of glassware. I present to you... MOOMIN GLASSES!

Aren't they adorable?! They're part of a range of tableware by the Finland Arabia brand (in case you didn't know, The Moomins were created by a Finnish illustrator and writer) that also includes mugs and cake stands!

They were just TOO EPIC to include amongst the other statement tumblers I wrote about a couple of weeks ago - so I saved them to share with you now.

First up in the set of four we have the Moominpappa tumbler, with his lovely top hat and great sense of adventure.

Then there's Moominmamma's tumbler, sporting a lovely apron and collecting shells on the beach.

Next up is Moomin himself, showing his love of the great outdoors by engaging in a spot of fishing. On the back of the glass there's a ship in a bottle, which is also gorgeous (in fact, all of the glasses feature a ridiculously cute illustration on the back as well as the Moomin on the front.)

Lastly, it's Snorkmaiden's tumbler! She's Moomin's best pal (some would say girlfriend) and she's a wonderful romantic at heart.

All of these tumblers are £7.90 each (so you can have the set for just over £30) and are just brilliant quality. If you love the look of these as much as I do, pop over to John Lewis' site and view the rest of the Moomin tableware range.

Or you could just watch this:

I'd forgotten how much I love The Moomins...

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Bar Review: Basement Sate, Soho

This review is a guest post from the wonderful guys at Social and Cocktail - you can view more of their guest posts here.

The Lowdown: Celebrating all things sweet and decadent, Basement Sate puts pudding first. This concept bar invites you to indulge by heading out for dessert and a cocktail - or to drop in after dinner for a relaxed change of scenery.

Where: This sleek and stylish basement bar is a newbie on the Soho scene. Located on Broadwick Street it is easily walkable from either Oxford Circus or Piccadilly. Like all cool hangouts, the outside signage is subtle so look out for the brass plaque and head down the stairs into this secretive underground lair.

First Thing You Notice: The low-level lighting teamed with copper-top tables gives the setting a warm and inviting glow and along with rich furnishings and uber-cool interior pieces, you realise there must be a serious design team behind this. Find sanctuary within a dark-panelled snug or lounge on a velvet-covered sofa and prepare for an evening of indulgence.

What You’ll Tell Your Friends: The dessert menu has been created by Pastry Chef Dorian Picard, who has previously worked with the likes of Gordon Ramsay and Pascal Aussignac, so rest assured that you're in good (and talented) hands. Dorian has expertly matched the desserts to the cocktails, after being inspired by the unique flavours and subtle undertones of the carefully-crafted cocktail menu.

Atmosphere: A rarely-achieved warm and welcoming meets cool and chic, Basement Sate has struck the balance between being in a place where you feel relaxed but also where you feel special. It has a calm buzz that brings to mind sophisticated Parisian charm.

Decor: Raw, exposed brickwork lends a rustic simplicity to the overall look, but teamed with polished interiors and gorgeous living room furniture designed by Fleming and Howland, the decor exudes style and luxury.

Creative Concept: The brains behind this outfit is Cathleen McGarry, co-owner of Sherry Butt in Paris, and her vision was to bring something new to London's diverse drinking scene and for people to enjoy a few expertly-made cocktails and exquisite desserts in a cool but comfortable environment.

So You’re Thirsty: Less is often more and Basement Sate offers a dynamically-designed list of twelve cocktails, that feature premium spirits and unique ingredients such as salted caramel, champagne syrup and wakame infused vermouth. Proving that desserts needn't be paired with overly-sweet dessert wine, try something fresher like the Beet Me Up, which uses beetroot and ginger to tantalise the palate.

Hungry Too? With a mouth-watering list of seven delectable desserts, there is something here for every kind of sweet tooth. The Chocolatine is a must for chocolate-lovers, showcasing the best of what the cocoa bean can create, and if you like something a little zingier, the Parfait Cassis with its blackcurrant parfait, sablé breton and Tahitian marshmallow is pure heaven.

Don’t leave without trying: Be brave and try The Salty Granny. More on the savoury side of things, it marries Japanese ingredients with quintessential English flavours, like the Granny Smith, and is the perfect tipple to cut through the deliciously sweet mouthfuls.

Prices Please: With desserts ranging between £8 and £11 and cocktails starting at £9 and ending at £13, a sweet treat here is definitely affordable at any time of the evening. Such an intriguing menu might even tempt one to suggest ordering a few to share...

Friday, 24 October 2014

The Cono Sur Blogger Competition: We're Involved!

For all our efforts to continually bring you new and exciting parcels of wine, we still - just like you - have our favourites.

Since we began the Vinspire journey we've been enjoying the fruits of Aldofo Hurtado's labour under the label with a vision to convey the spirit of the New World - Cono Sur.

So we're excited to share with you our involvement in the Cono Sur Blogger Competition - a search for a savoury new main dish to pair with one of their wines.

Looking back on Vinspire's (short but fruitful) history, we've encountered many of the wines from Cono Sur along the way, and to date, haven't had a bad word to say about them!

Back in April this year for Earth Day, Kate touched on the quality of the growing conditions and Adolfo's desire for organic grapes, in June I wrote about the different tiers of the Cono Sur range after the London Wine Fair, before Freddie introduced us to the sub-£6 Cono Sur Carmenere later in the month.

Even in 2013 Matt found the Cono Sur Bicicleta Pinot Noir for £5, plus we've featured various varietals in food and wine matching posts - Wines for When Things Spice Up, Wine And Curry - and Cono Sur even made it into our Festival Drinking Essentials list!

If there's one thing that we all agree on, it's Cono Sur's consistency and desire to deliver an exceptional product, at an affordable price (probably the reason we buy so much!).

So it's for all of the above reasons that I'm excited to have been asked to help judge the final of their Blogger Paris!

Open to bloggers from Ireland, Sweden and Finland, the Blogger Competition is a search for the ultimate main course dish to pair perfectly with a wine from the Cono Sur portfolio. All the entries submitted in August were posted on the Blogger Competition site, and consumers were able to vote for their favourite dish from each country - bearing in mind the wine which has been chosen to pair with the dish.

In September, the top three dishes from each country were selected, and these semi-finalist dishes were then prepared by renowned chef Christopher Carpentier, who selected the top dish from each country. It is these three finalists who I'll be meeting in Paris and who'll prepare and present their dishes for us to taste. Curious to know what I'll be tasting?

You can check out the full recipes for the finalists dishes on the Competition site....though I am yet to correctly translate two out of three so I maybe in for a surprise! They look pretty good though...what do you think?

From Ireland:
'Scallops and Bacon'
To pair with Cono Sur's Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc

From Sweden:
'Helgrillad röding toppad med aprikossmör på krispig grönsakssallad'
To pair with Cono Sur's Bicicleta Gewurztraminer

From Finland:
'Tuliset lohitacot'
To pair with Cono Sur's Biciclecta Riesling

Alongside Cono Sur's General Manager and Chief Winemaker, Adolfo Hurtado and Chilean chef Christopher Carpentier (repsonsible for several successful restaurants in Santiago), I'll be helping choose the winner, who will go on to enjoy a trip for two to Chile, and of course the Cono Sur vineyards and winery.

The judging will take place on 15th November, so keep your eyes posted for the follow-up post and the announcement of the winning dish...and of course its perfect Cono Sur wine match!

Images taken from and where the finalists dishes are referenced to respective owners' blogs. Thank you to Cono Sur for the opportunity to be involved in this exciting competition.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Exploring the Loire: Sancerre Pinot Noir

There are some wine regions that become so well known for a certain grape or varietal that they become almost synonymous with it. Think Malborough and Sauvignon Blanc, Mendoza and Malbec.

One area that could be considered in the same category is Sancerre, one of the most vaunted AOCs within the Loire valley, which is renowned world-wide for its mineralic, steely, flinty Sauvignon Blancs.
French wine production areas - source: Wikipedia
I was pleasantly surprised then when I received a bottle of 2012 Pinot Noir "Le Rabault Rouge" from Joseph Mellot in Sancerre. I immediately took to the internet and read that according to Wikipedia 20% of the wine production in Sancerre is given over to Pinot Noir - why hadn't I heard more of this before?

As I started to think about it, it made sense that Loire would produce Pinot Noirs; the region shares approximately the same latitude as Burgundy and has many of the same characteristics with the world's premier Pinot Noir production site.

I mentioned my surprise that I was to be drinking a Pinot Noir from Sancerre on Twitter and feedback was mixed; some said "of course the Loire makes great Pinot - it has been doing so for years", others shared my surprise and were curious as to what it was like.  

So, how did I get on with the wine?

When I poured the wine into the glass it was a rather delicate, light red. The wine had a distinct meniscus to it, which was a little surprising for a wine so young, but probably down to its very light body.

On the nose the dominant smells coming through were red fruits and that characteristic Pinot Noir bitter-almond smell. I noted that additionally it had quite a "pretty" bouquet, with slightly perfumed twinge.

As I tasted it I felt that the wine was rather light bodied, which one would expect from a young Pinot from this kind of area; it was never going to be one of those fruit-driven, opulent Pinots that you get from the New World.

There was quite a lot of tartness of the wine, in fact if anything it felt that there was a touch too much. To my mind it needs a touch more time to balance out and mellow a little more. As I let the wine breathe a little more it did start to open up, but it still had a while to go. The wine went very well with a pasta dish that I was cooking with some Italian salami.
Conclusion: 7.5/10
In conclusion, this was an interesting wine and I will certainly be trying to scour wine shops and wine lists for further examples of Pinot Noirs from Sancerre so that I can learn a bit more about these wines.
This wine is available from Hatch Mansfield for £18.99/bottle.      

Disclaimer: I was kindly sent this bottle by Hatch Mansfield as a sample. Opinions contained within this post are my own.  

Dream Decanter: Two Twisty Decanters for my Christmas Wish List

As I prepare to move into my first flat with The Boy, I'm spending approximately 78% of every day searching, dreaming about and shortlisting my ideal glassware for our new place.

I want it to be special and suited to me (oh go on then, and suited to him too, I suppose...) but I'm also on a teeny tiny budget, so finding the perfect wine glasses, decanters and storage for my massive booze collection is proving tough.

And then two perfect decanters came along at once.

Wine Gift Centre has long been a fave of ours* and there's plenty of their products on my wish list. These two decanters are pretty new to their site and I'm really excited about both of them:

First, the Conundrum decanter, pictured above. The curvy shape may be gorgeous, but it's practical too - as your pour your wine into the decanter, the wine aerates as it flows through the swirls. It's a pretty sight to behold - and also makes it very grippable for when you pour the wine.

The 1-litre Conundrum decanter is £29.95 - which is affordable for most people, and good value for such a stylish but functional design - but you can also get a little half-litre version of the Conundrum for £19.95.

Then there's the Twister decanter and aerator. It's magnificent, a bit of a show-stopper when you pour you wine into it, and also incredibly clever.

Basically, you pop the aerator on top of the mouth-blow decanter, which has been specifically designed to hold it perfectly, and pour the wine. First, it catches any sediment into a stainless-steel filter (making it perfect for older bottles), then it aerates the wine as it passes into the bowl of the aerator, and then the wine passes through the stunning little spiral system, getting even more oxygen to the wine as it flows around the decanter and slowly settles in the bottom.

I've yet to see such a spectacle of a decanting process, but the fact that it's as practical as it is pretty really does sell it for me. It's £49.99 - on the steeper side of affordable for many, perhaps, but I can't help thinking that for a high-quality decanter and aerator this is absolutely worth it.

Which of these appeals to you the most? Are you adding either of them to your Christmas list? Tell us in the comments!

* Wine Gift Centre are one of our lovely sponsors on the side bar, but this piece was written completely independently by me. We are never, ever paid for our opinions at Vinspire and this is 100% my true view of the decanters. I want them both...

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

#WineWednesday: Theatre of Wine's Fantastic Value White Rhone

This is the latest #WineWednesday recommendation from Theatre of Wine - our October Wine Shop of the Month - as part of our ongoing series championing the UK's brilliant array of independent wine shops. You can also view Theatre of Wine's other recommendations, or browse the suggestions from other wine shops we've featured.

We love a wine bargain here at Vinspire (some would say too much - these people are what we like to call 'stupid wine snobs') and Jason at Theatre of Wine has come up with an absolute corker today! Especially if you're a fan of white Chateauneuf du Pape...

Domaine Galévin Cotes-du-Rhone Blanc 2011, £11.80

Virtually unknown in the UK, Coralie Goumarre has about 20 vintages under her belt at this organically farmed estate, and is highly regarded by French and American critics for her white and red Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines.

This week’s wine is the little brother of the astonishingly delicious white Chateauneuf which we also sell. Despite its lowly appellation, this Cotes-du-Rhone blanc is a deliciously smoky, complex blend of three important Rhone grape varieties, namely clairette, marsanne and roussanne.

The flavour is a winning combination of lemon zest and fresh almond, a lick of oak and a dash of cream, rounded off with a beautifully nutty, sesame seed character.

As the weather turns chilly, this is a perfect autumn white that resembles nothing so much as a high-end white Burgundy. The best bit? It's £11.80.

The lovely guys at Theatre of Wine don't have an online shop yet - but they do offer UK-wide delivery, so just give them a call or drop them an email. Happy Wine Wednesday!

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Haig Club: Great advert, but what about the Whisky?

Has anyone seen the Haig Club Whisky advert? It's ridiculously cool. Directed by Guy Ritchie, it features beautiful, sweeping Skyfall-esque Scottish scenery, Beckham on a classic motorbike, a seaplane, a loch and a castle. Doesn't get more Scottish than this, aye?

I've always had a problem with celebrity-endorsed products; be it underwear, fragrance or alcohol etc, on the grounds that it can often be an inferior quality product, with a name plastered on it to make it marketable. Great for both parties though; the producer sells more of their product, and the personality earns massive royalties. Win Win.

When I heard that Diageo had teamed up with Beckham and music mogul, Simon Fuller, I was sceptical at best about the outcome. Firstly, I failed (and still do) to really understand what X Factor (excuse the pun) Fuller brings to the table; he's not a particularly marketable person, just a music entrepreneur, and found myself thinking 'Oh dear Beckham, here we go again...'

I fell in love with the advert immediately. If you haven't seen it, it nails exactly what sells you on whisky. It's also extremely clever, clearly playing on the fact that the Asian market are massive on whisky, and massive on Beckham. It sells the heritage, even though the whisky has no age statement. The track, Left Hand Free by alt-J suits the advert perfectly. I imagine Haig Club will perform much, much better in the Asian markets, and obviously, so do Diageo, the alcohol brand conglomerate behind the venture, also responsible for brands such as Smirnoff, Guinness, Gordons, Red Stripe, Tanqueray, Captain Morgan and many many more.

The Haig Club bottle can easily be confused for a bottle of Bleu de Chanel, however, I'd recommend not drinking the latter. Perhaps Beckham got confused in the design meeting, perhaps he thought it was another Eau de Beckham... I'm sorry but the image of Beckham in his underwear dousing himself in the contents of this bottle may do it for some of you out there, but I'm not that way inclined, and struggle with the idea of drinking a bottle of aftershave...

I was lucky enough to taste Haig Club the other week, and although I'm no whisky fan, nor expert, I wasn't totally underwhelmed by it. It didn't blow me away, but it did restore some faith in celebrity-endorsed brands. There has been some standard of quality applied to this product, so fair play to Diageo, and Beckham, for not completely selling out.

Theres virtually no peat (a good thing for me!), and its got a good amount of sweetness and toffee (also good for someone who doesn't enjoy whisky). There's lots of almond on the nose, and I pointed out it smells like Bakewell tart (I like Bakewell tart). Apparently theres dried mango, but I really didn't get this.

There's a little spicy oak on the palate, a rich sweetness and lingering spicy aftertaste. Very little complexity.

It is also, ridiculously, stupidly, overpriced in my view. The Whisky Exchange retails it at £44.95 for 70cl, for which is essentially a £25 bottle of whisky. Pricing it at the same level as a Lagavulin 16 year old raises some seriously big eyebrows for me, especially as there is no age statement...

It's not really good enough to sample on its own as a favoured whisky, and all I really wanted to do is pour it over vanilla ice cream or mix it in cocktails, but the price makes it unjustifiable.

Haig Club will still perform well internationally, and I imagine that is what Diageo is concerned about, rather than creating a whisky to rival Scotland's many highly-esteemed and legendary distilleries. But my experience as a pub and bar manager makes me feel bartenders will avoid mixing with it due to the price, and real whisky fans will give it a wide berth in favour of spending this kind of money on more iconic names.

The advert supersedes the experience. In a way, the advert IS the experience. Enjoy it below:

Monday, 20 October 2014

Top Wines to Match Game Dishes

Photo: Colby Stopa

With Game Season well under way at this time of year, now is the best time to enjoy this flavoursome, rich meat, whether you're dining out or cooking some game dishes yourself.

Whether you're eating feathered or furred game, it's probably going to be big and bold, and you need rich, gutsy wines to stand up to these gamey flavours.

Here are a few simple suggestions for wines that will stand up to various types of game (listed in alphabetical order):

Photo: Beck
Guinea Fowl

With a taste somewhere between chicken and pheasant, guinea fowl is a bird that goes really well in slow-cooked casseroles, as well as being a seasonal Sunday roast alternative.

If you want a red wine, I'd go with a spicy (but not too heavy) red like Rhone or southern French shiraz.
Try: Le Froglet Shiraz, £6,99 at Marks and Spencer

White wines will also work - try a rich, buttery white like oaked chardonnay or Alsace pinot gris.
Try: Montes Alpha Chardonnay, Casablanca Valley - currently £9.74 at Majestic if you buy two (normally £12.99)

Photo: Kai Hendry

If you can afford a treat, you'll love a rich pheasant pie or pheasant stew with chestnut dumplings (marry me, Jamie Oliver) or even just a nice roasted pheasant breast. Either way, I'd definitely go with a red for this flavoursome bird.

If it's roasted pheasant, err to the side of lightness - pick a pinot noir with a little bit of savoury bite (see the Kumeu River pinot I recommended under wild boar at the end of this post).

If you're going full on, rich comfort-food like the stew or pie, then opt for a decent Rhone syrah, a wild, herby southern French blend of red grapes or an earthy Chianti from Italy.
Try: The Society's Chianti Rufina, £7.96 at The Wine Society (probably the best value chianti out there.) OR:
Mlle Jones Fitou 2012, £13.99 at Majestic when you buy two (and well worth it!)

Photo: Eric McGregor

Probably my favourite game bird, pigeon really is packed full of flavour, and needs equally robust red wines to bring out the best in it.

Look to Aussie Shiraz, the best quality Chianti you can afford (they're lovely and earthy) or a northern Rhone Syrah - particularly a Crozes-Hermitage.

Try: Jean-Luc Colombo Les Gravieres Crozes-Hermitage - £10.49 down from until 28th October at Waitrose OR
Peter Lehmann Portrait Shiraz, £11.25 at Sainsbury's

Photo: Kate Hopkins

Firm and meaty but with less assertive flavour than other game, rabbit is irresistible when accompanied by garlic, red fruits or salty pancetta, so which wine you choose will possibly depend on how you're serving it.

Generally speaking, however, you can't go wrong with a good pinot noir or a soft Italian red.
Try: Ara Single Vineyard Pinot Noir, £11.99 at Waitrose

If you're opting for a richer, more concentrated dish like rabbit stew, look for southern Italian or Greek red wines.
Try: Red on Black Agiorgitiko (Greece), £8.99 at Marks and Spencer

Photo: Jeremy Keith

Ah, the big beast of the game world, venison (or, basically, deer) is a mighty meat that is normally served alongside berries like blackberry or juniper, or in rich sauces and things like port.

It needs a big, beefy wine to match it, particularly one with similar dark fruit flavours to the accompaniments, so you should probably opt for cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel, bold Italian reds or Rhone blends (syrah-grenache). A Malbec might even work if your dish has a little extra spicy richness.

With roast venison or venison sausages, try: Chateau Aigues Vives Corbieres, £8.91 if you buy two at Majestic (normally £10.99)

With richer, more concentrated dishes like casseroles try: Lava Beneventano Aglianico, £9.79 at Tesco.

Photo: Mike Haller
Wild Boar

This delicious, stronger-flavoured alternative to pork probably needs something silky but - like regular pork - not too tannic.

Pinot noir and Beaujolais are generally good matches in this regard, although I'd go with something with a little more oomph than normal.
Try: Kumeu River Village Pinot Noir for £9.50 from The Wine Society.

I've only ever had wild boar when in southern France, and earthy Mediterranean flavours do work really well. With that in mind, I'd try a bottle of Frappato, a Sicilian red grape that is like pinot noir but tangier and a little richer - exactly what you'd need for wild boar.
Try: Tesco Finest Frappato is a joy at £7.99 per bottle.

What game dishes have you been enjoying, and - more importantly - what have you been drinking with them? Let us know in the comments...

Quality over Quantity: Marlborough's Greywacke Wines

Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand... Yeah, we get it. It's our no faffing go-to because we know what we're getting; dry, crisp, citrusy, good acidity, and most of all, generally under a tenner. So how do you feel about spending more like £15 - £20 on a bottle? Or what about creeping up to £30 for a NZ Chardonnay?

Well, a couple of weeks ago I attended a Greywacke tasting - hosted by Greywacke winemaker Richard Ellis at my local indie wine store, Tivoli Wines - to see what all the fuss is about.

Greywacke (pron: grey-wacky) is the Marlborough label of Kevin Judd; the name is a nod to the high prevalence of grey rounded river stones found everywhere in New Zealand, even in the soils of the vineyards.

There are just three people that work full time for Greywacke; Kevin, his wife Kimberley, and Richard; a considerably small operation for such a familiar brand. The reason for this minimal number is that they don't produce their wines from their own vineyards - they simply don't own any! Instead, they source fruit from mature vineyards elsewhere in NZ, calling favours from friends in the industry, and harvesting grapes outside of the peak picking times. The wines are then made by Kevin at Dog Point Winery.

This meticulously planned operation inevitably results in the production of far fewer bottles in comparison to most of the Kiwi wines on the market. Extra attention has to be given to quality control too, and these are factors in why you're paying a higher price. That said, you only have to taste a drop to know that it's worth every penny. Greywacke wines encompass an opulence; they offer something with much more delicacy and complexity.

Their portfolio is primarily Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, but there are also limited releases of Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Gewurtzraminer. I should also mention that Kevin's a keen photographer, and that his beautiful vineyard images provide the unmistakable identity of the range.

I won't go into detail about all the wines we tried, I just wanted to focus on the Savs... And a teeny bit on the Chardonnay. Maybe I might convince you to splurge a little?

Anyway, we were lucky enough to be the 2nd people in the UK to try the brand new 2014 Sauvignon Blanc! (£16.99 from The Wine Company) Having just landed off the boat, and bottled just 5-6 weeks ago, it was very early days, and even Richard said that wines are unsettled and often in a "dull phase" at this point. Nonetheless, as a testament to the quality, it was still drinking well; classic fresh fruit, crisp and zingy. There's no punch-you-in-the-face grassy character to it, rather a more aromatic and tropical style. Juicy stone fruits, such as nectarines and peaches, with subtle blossom undertones, and a good acidity; it would work wonderfully as an aperitif, or partnered with avocado dishes and ceviche.

Greywacke also produce another Sauvignon Blanc; Wild Sauvignon 2012 (available from The Drink Shop at £20.95). Fermented in old French oak barrels using wild yeast, this is a much different style - a game changer if you will. It’s a fuller textural wine; dry, but with a luscious creamy buttery taste (something that’s generally more synonymous with Chardonnay). There are fleshy peach flavours which develop a savoury herbaceous fennel complexity, and a lingering flinty finish. Richard’s suggestion was to pair it with firm fish and light pork/poultry pasta dishes. 

Last, but certainly not least, the Chardonnay 2011 (priced at £26.50 from Wine Direct). Ok, we're hitting the £30 mark now (depending on where you get it from), and I know that most of us would wince at spending that amount on a bottle to drink on a non-special occasion, but I think that this is worth it. 

It’s a rich style, smooth but still retaining its characteristic Mendoza concentration of flavour and acidity. You pick up grapefruit initially, which slowly unravels to sweeter citrus; clementines and even marmalade. There’s smoky, nutty, bacon-y aromas too - thanks to the 20% of wine aged in new French Oak barrels - but it’s in no way overpowering. With a long, mouth-filling finish, Greywacke’s Chardonnay is a bright wine full of interesting dimensions, making it very adaptable for various food matches... Or just thoroughly enjoying on its own.

Have I persuaded you yet? Sure, you might want to spend that amount on a couple of wines from the shop, or maybe a spirit that'll last you a bit longer – we all like to get more for our money - but how about you splash out this month and give Greywacke a go; it's no plonk!