Friday, 28 November 2014

The Cono Sur Blogger Competition: Winner Announced

Two weeks ago at a cooking school in a little corner of Paris, I joined Cono Sur General Manager and Chief Winemaker, Adolfo Hurtado and top Chilean chef, Christopher Carpentier to judge the final of the Cono Sur Blogger Competition Final.

Ready to kick off the final.
The competition was open to bloggers from Finland, Sweden and Ireland and was a search for a savoury main dish to match perfectly with one of the many wines in the Cono Sur portfolio.

Finalists Billy Lyons (Ireland), Johanna Koskiranta (Finland) and Anna Demirian (Sweden) were proud as punch to have been selected as the top entrants in their respective countries, but the best was yet to come!

Prior to the final in Paris, I introduced the dishes of the three finalists in my post, The Cono Sur Blogger Competition: We're Involved!, but to see the preparation and cooking take place - along with the buzz of finals day - was truly enjoyable. Add to that, it was a melting pot of culture with bodies from the UK, Chile, Sweden (yet, with an Armenian background), Finland, Ireland and the United States which always makes for interesting conversation!

All good days start with bubbles!

With the finalists and their guests, Adolfo, Christopher and representatives from both Cono Sur and importers and PR gurus from the respective finalist countries, the atmosphere was exciting from the moment we gathered at the cooking studio to toast the beginning of the day, or the beginning of the end of the competition! Of course, we started with bubbles - the Cono Sur Brut and the Cono Sur Sparkling Rose, both light, fresh and fruity - and far too easy to sip (even at 11am Paris time!).

The ingredients were laid out Masterchef style - each finalist with their own bench plus token chef's hat and apron emblazoned with the Blogger Competition logo, a nice touch and momento to take home - then it was on to mis en place, or preparation time, then finally the cooking and presenation amid a flurry of activity and susequent glasses of bubbles.

l'Atelier des Sens set up for the finalists.

As the finalists were busy cooking and I was chatting to one and all, Chef Chris was also busy preparing a meal for us all which we enjoyed once all the dishes had been tasted. His inspiration? The coffee pods from his morning coffee on arrival at the studio. The result? Coffee and spice roast duck tagliatelle with bacon and onion and a glass of the Cono Sur Single Vineyard Pinot Noir.

Chef Carpentier's duck tagliatelle with Cono Sur Pinot Noir for lunch!

When judging each dish we accounted for presentation, cooking skill, temperature, balance in the dish and of course the food-wine match. Each dish was tasted with its selected wine, but it was until later in the day when we met for dinner that the winner was announced. All dishes were extrememly well executed which made for a tough decision and it wasn't until after the bubbles were popped yet again before dinner, that Adolfo, Chef Chris and I came to an agreement on just who was going to win the trip to Chile.

With the spectacular Eiffel Tower illuminated in twinkling lights behind us, we boarded a private boat to begin a magical evening of good food, great wine and great company while cruising down the Seine. Of course we were also to announce the winner after keeping the finalists and their partners in suspense since leaving the cooking studio earlier that afternoon!

And so onto the results...

In third place, team Ireland (husband and wife, Billy and Clare Lyons) presented (perfectly cooked) baked scallops wrapped in Irish bacon and brushed with a shellfish butter made locally to their town in Ireland. This was paired with the Cono Sur Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc.

Scallops with bacon and shellfish butter with Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc (Ireland)

In second place was Anna Demirian, originally from Armenia but having lived in Sweden for a number of years,  who prepared pan fried Char (fresh water fish) with a fresh, crunchy salad of asparagus, mange tout and onions, plus a sweet, creamy apricot butter. This was paired with the Cono Sur Bicicleta Gewurztraminer.

Pan-fried Char with salad and apricot butter with Bicicleta Gewurztraminer (Sweden)

Finally, the winner, Johanna Koskiranta from Finland and her sous chef, her husband! With a dish of fish tacos, Johanna made a teriyaki marinade for her salmon before mixing an Asian inspired salad with avocado, carrot, cabbage, coriander, ginger, garlic chilli to name just a few ingredients. This was paired with the Cono Sur Bicicleta Riesling - even down to which glass it was best served in! A worthy winner indeed who now will travel to Chile with her exceptional assistant - her husband - and explore the Cono Sur Vineyards with Adolo himself....a very lucky couple!

The winner Johanna (from Finland) preparing her dish.

Spicy fish tacos with teriyaki salmon and Asian salad with Bicicleta Riesling (Finland)
Many congratulations Johanna, and to Anna, Billy and Clare - what a wonderful day of cooking and wine and a thank you to all the team at Cono Sur - those who where there and those who were not - for inviting me to be a part of an exceptional competition and fantastic trip to Paris.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Vinspire's 2014 Christmas Beer Gift Guide

Buying gifts for a beer lover can be one of the most simple of Christmas shopping tasks. The supermarkets are lined with gift packs of standard lagers in a Christmassy box with a branded glass and maybe a coaster. It's simple, functional and puts a smile on their face. The trouble is, however, is that this can get a little bit predictable over the years. It's not that we don't appreciate the two cans and pint glass that will probably only ever be used for orange squash after finishing said cans on Christmas day, far from it. What we object to is you spending your hard earned cash on a liquid that is barely worth the cardboard in which it is presented.

I know navigating the internet through all of the gift websites for that perfect little thing for someone can be an arduous task, but that's where this little guide comes in. I'm going to give you a couple of handy hints and even give you a few ideas to please the hop connoisseur in your life.

Just remember, Fosters is out of the question!

Starting out a little bit left field, something from Firebox who are somewhat awesome. Spreadable beer! Finally you can eat beer! On toast! Everybody loves toast! £9.99 a jar from Firebox.

A bottle of beer is great. A big bottle of beer is even better! A magnum of beer to be precise! Containing just under four pints this will keep them going until lunch time. What's more it's actually a very good beer coming from a microbrewery in Britain. And just to make it that little bit more special, it can be personalised. £23.95 from Not on the High Street.

From the immensely talented Monique over at Toasted glass come these beautifully hand decorated beer glasses adorned with these rather lovely vintage pin up girls. £11 each from Toasted Glass.

Perfect for picnics or festival goers, this beer cosy will keep your beer cold and can double up if you hide that cheeky Tuesday afternoon beer at your desk. £6 from Not on the High Street.

I can pretty much recommend anything from my website of the year, Best of British Beer, but this mulled cider kit comes with everything you need to warm the cockles this Christmas. £24.50 from Best of British Beer.

Give them the horn with Das Horn! Make them feel like a proper Viking on this most holy of Christian days for £24.99 from Firebox. Plus it comes with a neck strap and a stand so you don't necessarily have to hold your horn all day...

Etsy have a great selection of beer inspired art work and this sign is just one of my favourites. Just make sure it's always on display! £7.99 from Etsy.

If you wanted to go for a proper good selection of beers then head over to Best of British Beer who's case choices cater to all needs. For a special Christmas twist, then go for the Christmas Six Pack. £21.99 from Best of British Beer

For an unforgettable scent without the night before, give them Beer Soap. It comes in all the classic flavours including Guinness and Stella! £5.99 from Firebox


For convenience and requiring almost no effort, the fridge magnet bottle opener has a super strong magnet that sticks to the fridge door. No more looking for the bottle opener! £15 from SUCKUK.

There are literally thousands of gifts out the for you to choose from coming from all manner of websites. These are just a few of my favourites and would be overjoyed to receive any of them under my tree. Hint hint.

Still struggling for ideas? Check out last years beer gift guide!

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Advent Calendars With a Twist

Photo by Ambernectar 13
December is almost here! For months now there have been Christmas shops popping up all over the UK, there's talk about what will be Christmas' number 1 in the charts and the other day I say my first Coke Christmas ad of the year. That's right, it's nearly Christmas and time to start thinking long and hard about what to get as Christmas gifts and how you'll mark the festive period.

I honestly think that anyone who's into their whisky, wine, gin, rum or any booze really is dead simple to buy a gift for, but to help you along we'll be writing a few different guides with some cool ideas. However, this is idea needs to acted upon a bit earlier, but is sure to be a nailed on winner with the spirits fiend in your life.

To count down the days of advent and mark the days up until the significant day of the birth of Jesus Christ it is time to eschew the simple pictorial paper calendars and Cadbury offerings of old (don't even get me started on the One Direction abominations I saw in W H Smiths the other day) and try something different.

We've already told you about Best of British Beer's Beer Advent Calendar - but there's even more boozy advent delights out there...

Master of Malt have a wide array of different spirits based advent calendars available to suit any preference whether you are a fan of tequila, rum, gin, vodka, cognac or whisky!

That's right - for each day in December leading up to Christmas you (or a very lucky giftee) could wake up every morning to open the window on your advent calendar and be rewarded with a 3cl sample of spirit to (advisably) enjoy that night.

Each day would be something different will instill in even the most world wearied Grinchy McScrooge a child-like joy for this time of year and anticipation for Christmas... no guarantees.

The calendars that really caught my eyes are unsurprisingly the Whisky Calendar (£149.95), the Rum Calendar (149.95) and the Botanical Ginvent Calendar (£124.95).

Each contain 24 different samples that can be enjoyed and are perfect size for an evening tipple after work at one of the more stressful times of the year. The rum and whisky calendars are quite similar in that they are simply 24 different samples of each spirit, however the Botanical Ginvent offering is particular interesting as it has been designed to help you differentiate the different botanicals

used in making gin.

There is a standard base gin and each different day will have the same gin flavoured with a different botanical to teach you what each different one smells and tastes like. That is an amazing idea and will be sure to get any gin geek bouncing for joy.

I have gotten myself a Whisky Advent Calendar and will endeavour to sample and review each day's whisky here so that all you guys can follow me through the assuredly awesome experience.

The calendars range from £99.95 up to £279.95 and there is still time to order them in time for Christmas! Ho ho ho and all that!

Of course for the more artsy amongst you, you are able to could always have a go at making your own calendar like the one at the top of the page or just buying one that you can fill yourself and select from MoM's Drinks by the Dram selection.

 If you opt for this you can mix and match between different spirits and price ranges etc. and for me personally making up the selection would be just as fun as doing the tasting... well not quite, but almost!

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Bar Etiquette: How To Get Served Quickly

We're all guilty of doing things we shouldn't in bars. Christ, you should see how I've misbehaved in the past... I'm sure you've sometimes noticed your bartender roll their eyes at you because you just don't know your etiquette, or you're having two conversations at once, or you're impatient, or you're just a massive knob... etc etc.

We all hate waiting to be served, when that drink you've longed for all day is so close you can see it, but you can't quite have it yet. Its torturous. Anyways, I reckon if you learn a couple of my simple rules you'll end up getting served a lot quicker this Christmas, thus allowing you more time to spend chatting up that bird/bloke at the Christmas Party, and inevitably, making a drunken fool of yourself at Karaoke. So, here's my Dos and Don'ts of how to get served quickly.

Make eye-contact with your bartender. They already know you are waiting 'coz your standing at the bar, but if they see that you are paying attention and eager to get your order in quickly, then they will acknowledge you and serve you promptly.

Order more than one drink at a time. There is NOTHING more frustrating to a bartender than asking for one Gin & Tonic, then, when its made and in front of you, asking for another, or for a Vodka & Tonic, or asking for one cocktail at a time.

Your bartender is brilliant at multitasking, can remember long orders, and can speed up drink-making by doing more than one at a time. Oh, and that Guinness you're after, do yourself a favour and order it first!

Return your empty glasses. Granted, there's no discount on your next order for this, but a good deed may prompt one in return. At the very least, you'll get a smile, or you'll just sleep at night knowing you've done a good deed, allowing staff more time to serve at the bar. Heck, it might just get you served a little quicker.

Buy your server a drink if they've done a good job. Just the one though, not every round, or you'll come across as a bit of a weirdo. A drink is much appreciated at the end of a hard shift.

Have your money ready. We don't want to wait around while you count your pennies out. Neither does the guy next to you waiting with the angry eyes. If we're waiting for you, and everyone is waiting for us, then everyone is also waiting for you.

Wave your money at a member of staff. Not only do you look like a massive dick to your server, you also look like a massive dick to everyone else. We know you have money, that's why you're at the bar. It will not get you served quicker.

Shout 'I was first' when someone gets served quicker than you. We're all in the same boat, and your bartender will do their best to prioritise those who have been waiting longest, but don't get bitter if someone is served out of turn, you'll only go down that priority list further. Same applies for waving, whistling, banging your glass etc.


Whine like a baby when you're asked for ID - I'm nearly 27, own my own pub and I STILL get asked for ID everywhere I go. It just doesn't matter, it's not an insult. Get over it and get it out. The ID I mean.

And lastly, but definitely not least...

Drink and Drive. I know it goes without saying, but stay safe this Christmas. And at all other times. Enjoy!

Monday, 24 November 2014

Old St. Andrews Blended Scotch Whisky Range

Love whisky? Love golf? Then these could be the perfect drams for you! Or maybe they’d make a delightful present for a loved one this Christmas, though be sure you write ‘fore: [insert name here], puns are always a winner.

However, if you’re more of a traditionalist, you might turn your nose up at these sorts of bottles - they’re quite an acquired taste - but in the spirit of not judging a book by its cover, we’ve given them a go.

Following a Tweet Tasting with The Whisky Wire last month, the generous folks at Old St. Andrews Whisky sent over some samples of their range – in actual golf ball sized miniature bottles – in order to review. There are four blends in the range, all at 40%, going from the ‘signature’ 3 year old Clubhouse whisky to the 15 year old Nightcap. They all seem to have a familiar note underpinning them and, in my opinion, each would work well as a tasty session dram.

Clubhouse 3YO 40% ABV (£21.00 70cl from Asda, or £21.27 50cl / £23.49 70cl and £38.21 100cl from Master of Malt)

Blended from whiskies that were in sherry and port casks, this drinks surprisingly well for its youth. You get green apples on the nose at first, which develop a damp and mossy aroma before buttery caramel sweetness becomes apparent. It’s creamy and a there’s a gentle wisp of smoke at the end.

The creaminess continues in texture on the palate, and there’s sugar, spice and all things nice. It's an inoffensive easy drinker with tingling pepperiness and a short finish, though the addition of a drop of water lengthens this with toffee apple flavours, and the pepper and smoke blossom.

Twilight 10YO 40% ABV, 70cl (£31.07 from Master of Malt)

Matured in American white oak casks, this is typically delicate; light and lemony with a faint floral smell. Its sweetness is like a pick n mix - literally - rich and honeyed in one sense, then candy floss and chewy milk bottles in the next.

It has a silky mouthfeel, and a warming finish with cloves. The sweet and citrusy character is more apparent with the addition of water, and overall, it's quite an interesting zippy dram that quenches your whisky-thirst.

Fireside 12YO 40% ABV, 70cl (£33.85 from Master of Malt)

100% malt and no grain, Fireside is matured for 12 years in oak casks. This one is marketed as being "the smoky one", but there's an early autumn sweetness about its scent; walnuts, raisins, orange and peach.

The fruits get a more baked flavour on the palate, and it has quite a waxy texture. The peat suddenly seeps in, and a savoury - though not salty - taste lingers on the finish. This has much more complexity to it, and the layers open up as you continue to drink. Despite its marketing, it's not mega smoky, but for those who are new to peated malts, then this would make a good intro. This one's best suited to drinking straight up.

Nightcap 15YO 40% ABV, 70cl (£36.95 from Master of Malt)

Matured in European oak casks, this is the richest of the set. A floral meadow aroma with sugary nougat, progresses to more of a tropical style; coconut, mango and golden syrup. There’s a sharp tang lurking in there too.

On the palate it offers plenty of dark fruits with brown sugar, and there’s an almost chocolate-y depth to its flavour. Like Fireside, I'd recommend sipping and savouring the taste of this without ice.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised with the Old St. Andrews range; I guess the snob in me presumed an inferior drink due to the gimmicky packaging. I’ll accept the mega slaps on the wrist now. Each have their own delicate complexities which sustains intrigue, but there’s a creaminess which unites the 'fab four'.

They’ve also got their pricing pretty spot on, in fact it’s pretty good value considering the quality of the blends; even Jim Murray’s rated them highly! Without a doubt, the 12 year old Fireside was my fave, from the first sniff to the last drop, the flavours continued to develop... And I’m a sucker for peat!

I kind of think I prefer the daintier 5cl golf ball bottles as opposed to the full 70cl versions - they’d be perfect for putting in stockings - but as far as I can see, only the Clubhouse is currently available in this format (£2.95 from The Whisky Exchange). You can, however, get the other three in miniature 5cl barrels; the triple Whisky Barrel Tasting Set, with Twilight 10, Fireside 12 and Nightcap 15, is £19.89 on Drink Supermarket.

Bargain blends… Par-tee time?!

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Cocktails and Cuisine: Salaam Namaste, Bloomsbury

The Venue: Salaam Namaste, London

The Cuisine: Indian

Perfect For When You’re Feeling: Like you want a taste of India that isn’t necessarily your bog-standard korma or vindaloo - the food at Salaam Namaste pushes the boundaries of what you’ve come to expect from your normal Indian restaurant. There’s also a really scrummy cocktail list that offers refreshing drinking with your spice.

Location: Wandering through Bloomsbury, you’ll find this little place tucked away on Millman Street.

Menu Concept: While there are still the old curry favourites, the guys at Salaam Namaste are keen to bring the dishes of their country to the forefront. Cue a selection of interesting ingredients - Chukandari Venison and Mustard Quail in the starters, and a great addition of goat curry as a main, as well as regional specialities. The butter chicken is a favourite from Delhi, while the Lahori Tawa Lamb Chops are a Pakistani recipe.

Cocktail Contributions: There’s a firm and fair focus on classics like mojitos, cosmopolitans and bellinis in order to provide refreshment with your meal, as well as a few interesting curve balls like the Delhi Devil. There are also some divine sounding non-alcoholic drinks. Lal Quila is vanilla ice cream blended with pomegranate syrup, cranberry juice and scented with rose water, and we love the sound of the salted lassi.

What We Scoffed: The starters all look incredible, and we eschewed the usual onion bhaji in order to try the Mackerel Riechard from Goa and Manglorean Soft Shell Crab. The former was a delicious slice of perfectly cooked fish with a crispy skin, resting atop a rich tomato-spiced sauce, while the fried crab was coated in crisp golden breadcrumbs and full of succulent meat that married well with the sweet chilli sauce. For main course we decided to try the house special of Goan Style Sea-bass - this was more chunks of amazing, robust fish with a thick sauce of curry leaf, mustard seed and coconut - and the Lamb Shank ‘kaliyan’, the meat of which fell off the bone in tantalising pink strands at the mere sight of our forks. A scoop of coconut ice cream was just the right chilled treat to cleanse our palates.

What We Quaffed: We were intrigued by the Namaste Delight, which turned out to be a wonderfully fruit-packed concoction using fresh mango that was hard to stop drinking. The Delhi Devil was a burst of pomegranate flavour, with the little red gems of seeds muddled with mint, and refreshing ginger beer adding just enough fizz to keep the sweetness at bay. Both were obviously made with care and attention, and came with cool retro straws.

Next Time: The Parsi Style Star Anise Duck looked very tasty, as did the exotic sounding Chicken Hara Pyaz with pink fur potatoes. We’d also like to try the Calcutta Crush cocktail.

Atmosphere and Decor: It’s pretty stylish and contemporary inside, with clean lines, pale wood and some great neon art installations gracing the walls. That said, the music kept it nice and traditional.

Tell Me A Little More: Salaam Namaste is also a 2005 Bollywood musical romantic comedy film, and is a remake of the 1995 film Nine Months starring Hugh Grant and Julianne Moore.

What you’ll Instagram: Those great fruity cocktails - they look like they should be served in a beach in Hawaii. We’d also never had crab that was served deep fried whole - that deserved a picture!

What You’ll Tweet: Just had a great culinary trip around India - without the airfare! Visit for food that’s authentic, delicious and different.

This was a guest post from the lovely guys at Social and Cocktail.
Read more of their guest posts!

Friday, 21 November 2014

Friday Cocktail: Strawberry Milkshake Vodka Cocktails with Oddka

Ever since I discovered and reviewed Oddka's range of flavoured vodka earlier this year, my blog post about it has consistently been one of our highest-read posts on the site.

It's easy to see why - well-made spirits in truly original flavours like salted caramel popcorn and ELECTRICITY are a winning combination - and so you can imagine how pleased I was to hear that they had released a new flavour.

So what have they come up with this time?

STRAWBERRY MILKSHAKE FLAVOURED VODKA (£8 at Tesco and currently on offer for £7 at Sainsburys)!

Yes, that's right, you can enjoy the indulgence of strawberry milkshake in boozy form.

The Oddka guys sent me a bottle to try and I was genuinely surprised when I tasted it. I thought maybe it would just be a strawberry-ish vodka with a sickly fake creaminess about it that makes it a nice idea but totally impractical. I wasn't expecting what I actually found: a strange type of wizardry that gives you a 20% vodka liqueur that actually tastes like strawberry nesquik!

That was exactly the reaction of everyone I asked to try it - we were frankly astonished by how genuine the strawberry milkshake flavour was - and it made me very excited about the drinking possibilities.

So how exactly do you make good use of strawberry milkshake vodka liqueur?

Over ice? 
Maybe. That didn't work for me - the sweetness and booziness just needed something a bit more, so I wouldn't call this a sipping liqueur (unlike the watermelon flavour - oh boy).

As a shot?
This does work! My only advice is make sure it's ice cold (like a real milkshake) - and it's also an irresistible shot with a dash of cream.

In a cocktail?
Well NOW you're talking.
The Oddka guys sent me a few recipes to try, and I have to admit these two are by far my favourite.

One is oddly refreshing and fruity, the other is an indulgent, creamy cocktail that I would enjoy in place of dessert or after dinner if you're having a particularly girly evening. Also perfect for Grease theme-parties (now there's an idea...)
And we all know how much I love milkshake cocktails...

Cloudy with a Chance of Ale cocktail recipe
(serves one)

Shake it!

1. Fill a highball glass with ice cubes.
2. Add all the ingredients and stir with a bar spoon
3. Garnish with a slice of lime

Better Shake Up cocktail recipe
(serves one)


Shake it!

1. Muddle the strawberries in a cocktail shaker (or jam jar, whatever you have to hand...)
2. Add all the other ingredients and give it a good shake over plenty of ice.
3. Strain into a cocktail glass or coupe.
4. Garnish with the remaining strawberry.

Oddka have even teamed up with a designer in Amsterdam who has made an Oddka Strawberry Milkshake 'dress' it is not to be missed:

An American Craft Whiskey: Hudson Baby Bourbon

One of the reasons I love whisky, rum, wine, beers and alcohol in general is the huge variety that is available, there are so many thousands of different styles of alcohol and then in each one there are again thousands upon thousands of different producers with so much to explore and try. I was very kindly sent a bottle of Hudson Baby Bourbon to review and honestly having not delved too deeply into the world of American whiskies it isn't one that I had really heard of, although the bottle was somewhat familiar.

Hudson is the first New York distillery since prohibition aiming at producing fine craft, small batch products with each bottle being hand numbered. The Baby Bourbon is a single grain whiskey made with 100% New York corn and is aged in small 2 gallon oak barrels for less than four years. The corn percentage is a seriously unique point, to be classified Bourbon a whiskey needs to have at least 51% corn, with almost none going all the way to 100%, the distillery also uses sonic vibrations to agitate the whisky to help speed up the maturation process. I love innovation just as much as variety when it comes to my booze and it is certainly present at the Hudson distillery.

On the nose the initial hit is pretty reminiscent of old aged rum with burn sugar, caramel, oak, tropical fruit and some vanilla. The nose is nicely perfumed, but really overt with a huge amount of oaky wood overlying it, for me it is definitely pleasant, but without a huge amount of depth to it.

On the palate this baby shows some weight it is big and viscous with a heavy mouthfeel. It is at 46% and quite young spirit and so has some heat to it, but there are some nice notes there again with burnt sugar and oak leading the charge, there is some fruit and vanilla coming through as well with just a touch of pepper.

This Hudson whisky is a big and brash cousin to our own native Single Malts being very sweet and woody, it is definitely the right sipping whisky for someone, but would also be phenomenal mixing with such a big and bold flavour. I did enjoy this whiskey, it was quite a dispatch from what I'm used to, it retails at around £40 and is a bit much for me personally for a half bottle, but I think there is promise there and if the distillery starts releasing some more aged stock then I'd be more than happy to give that a try too. This makes a great introductory whiskey due to its sweetness, but will definitely intrigue the more seasoned drinker.

Hudson Baby Bourbon is available from The Whisky Exchange for £40.95

Here's a liitle video from Hudson about the making of the whiskey

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Majestic's New Range of Artisan Spirits!

Photo: Bryan Ledgard

A few weeks ago, I brought you news of a rather splendid spirits sale at Majestic. Unfortunately this, like most sales (except the DFS one), has ended. The thing is, however, while this did have some awesome little buys, that sale paved the way for something even more awesome; a whole new spirits range!

Majestic have never really been all that competitive in the spirits market. The range was pretty much the same as in any other supermarket but just that little bit more premium. Now, however, they've gone down a slightly more artisan road, with some much more interesting bottles lining the shelves.

Bathtub Gin, Rumbullion and The One British Whisky are just some of the names amongst a whole host of new faces. And of course there's the brilliant Darnleys Spiced Gin that Adam had the pleasure of tasting recently.

I've chosen to focus on a gin, rum and, just because I feel like it (and because it's seriously great) an Armagnac.

Brokers London Dry Gin, £19.99

Produced with 10 different botanicals and quadruple distilled in a tradition copper pot still, this is crystal clear and smells of juniper, elderflower and candied citrus peel. On the palate it's beautifully smooth with a fairly unusual, creamy texture. The notes of candied citrus are on the forefront oft flavours, followed up by ginger, juniper, elderflower and honeysuckle.

Given its rich texture and full body, the finish is fantastically refreshing with notes of cucumber, reminiscent of Hendricks. What's more, the bottle comes with a tiny plastic bowler hat that's perfect size for a cat!

Don Papa Small Batch Rum, £30

Made in the Philippines and named after Don Papa Isao, an unsung hero of the Philippine revolution, this rum is a deep brick red colour. On the nose you would think that this is straight from the Caribbean with notes of vanilla, toffee, candied fruit and cinnamon. The palate is superbly complex and very rich.

Vanilla, red cherry and black treacle are all present in abundance. While the flavours sound intensely sweet, it's not particularly cloying like some other spiced rums and can be drunk neat or goes really well with a fiery ginger ale.

Tariquet Bas Armagnac VSOP, £35

The first thing to note about this the rather stylish and fancy looking bottle. Aged in oak for 7 years, it blends together fresh notes of citrus, mint and banana with more mature notes of woody spice, vanilla and caramel.

The palate kicks off with fresh citrus and banana giving way to vanilla, toffee, cedar, pepper and liquorice. With a slight kick at the back of the throat, the finish is wonderfully smooth, leaving behind notes of tropical fruit and spice.

This is a beautiful alternative to an after dinner cognac and goes supremely well with a nice cigar. Or just on its own... from a shoe.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Wine Wednesday: Cracking Value Rhone

It's time for another installment from our November Wine Shop of the Month, which is Satchells Wines in Burnham Market, Norfolk. It's a personal fave of Sam and I because we've been visiting here on our holidays for the past few years.

Now, you might be planning your Christmas wines already, and looking for some special bottles for celebrations and matching your Christmas turkey. If you're anything like me, you're probably wondering how far you can stretch your budget, and planning on splashing out on some particularly special bottles for this brilliant time of year.

I always have some Rhone during the festive season. Not only is it a crowd-pleaser at parties and a great match for all the trimmings that come with Christmas dinner, it's a region with its fair share of incredible names, from Chateauneuf-du-Pape to Cote-Rotie, Cornas and Crozes-Hermitage (not all Rhones start with a C, I promise...)

But these classics come with a price tag thanks to the terroir, the prestige and the know-how of producers whose families have been producing these wines for generations. Frankly, I can't afford the best stuff, no matter how much I love it.

BUT, what if you could have this know-how and these vineyards, but a delicious wine at a fraction of the cost?

Enter Maxwell, Satchell's Wines owner and our favourite person right now...

Yves Cuilleron Syrah Les Vignes D'A Cote, £13.99

This week’s rave is my “Poor Man’s Cote Rotie”. It is a 100% Syrah by Yves Cuilleron grown in the same vineyards as it’s much more expensive neighbour.

It is big and chunky with the classic white pepper nip. Utterly delicious and a real bargain at only £13.99.

You can order direct from Satchells by giving them a call on 01328 738272 , and the wine is also available at other wine shops throughout the UK.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Coffee, Beer & Chocolate Chilli Con Carne

Who doesn't LOVE a Chilli? It's the perfect Autumn comfort dish. I long thought I had THE BEST recipe for a Chilli con Carne (generally a good dose of Red Wine, a couple of Oxo's and a load of other ingredients), but I was wrong, oh so wrong.

So, I'm mixing it up today (Monday), and taking ideas from different recipes to amalgamate them into one incredible, extensive (and therefore, expensive) 'Chilli-Recipe-Of-The-Gods' to change your game!

The beer adds a great depth of flavour to the dish that you just don't get with wine; malt sweetness and a little bitterness. I used Adnams Broadside as I was in a rush at my local offie.

So, in no particular order, heres the ridiculously long list of ingredients:

1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
3 Shallots (chopped)
2 Garlic Cloves (mashed)
450g Sirloin/Rump Steak (nice and lean)
1 200g Tin of Chopped Tomatoes
1 Chopped Chilli, deseeded
100g Button Mushrooms
500ml Dark Beer
100ml Espresso/Strong Coffee
150g Tomato Puree (or 75g Double Concentrated)
1 Tin Kidney Beans
1 Tin Butter Beans
Generous glug of Worcester Sauce
1 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
250g Beef Stock
40g Dark Brown Sugar
2 Teaspoons Chilli Powder
1/2 Tablespoon Ground Cumin
1 Teaspoon Oregano
1/2 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
1 Teaspoon Salt
60g Dark Chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids)


Gently shallow-fry the Onions, Garlic & Diced Steak in the Oil for 4-5 minutes, until the beef has sealed and started to brown, and the onions turn translucent. Add chopped Mushrooms and cook for a further 2-3 minutes

Add about 400ml of the beer Beer, the Beef Stock, Coffee, Tomato Puree, Chopped Tomatoes and season with the Sugar, Chilli Powder, chopped Chilli, Herbs, Chocolate, Salt, and as much Worcester Sauce as you can handle (I'd happily drink the stuff!) Add half of the Beans, cover, and simmer until reduced by half, around 45 minutes.

Taste and season further with Salt & Pepper, and add another glug of Beer to bring it back to life.

I served it with a Perfect Jacket Potato (rubbed with Olive Oil, Salt, pepper & Rosemary, and cooked at 180 for 60-70 minutes), but would also be awesome with Rice or in a wrap.

The only way I can imagine this being any better is if I had made it with Smoked Beef Brisket. Hhhhhmmmmm.....

Although the ingredients list is quite extensive, just remember that most of the ingredients are probably already in your cupboard. It cost me just under £20 for the Steak, Beans, Beer, Mushrooms, Beef Stock & Chocolate, and there was enough for 4-5 people. Not bad for how bloody brilliant it was, but it's also great the next day after the flavours have developed further!

Enjoy with more of the beer you made it with, or a great Steam Beer such as that from Anchor Brewing Company, a great beer to cut through the spice and compliment the smoky chilli flavours. Adnams Broadside is widely available, although currently 2 for £3.00 at Waitrose. Anchor Steam Beer is well worth tracking down, and available in most Majestic Wine stores, 6 for £10.99 when you buy 2 cases.