Monday, 30 June 2014

Brand Spanking New: Sibling Triple Distilled Gin

Sometimes all you need is a bit of family time; catching up over a leisurely weekend lunch, a few (over competitive) board games, or simply watching a film with a cuppa in hand. Whilst this all sounds great, family time can now mean something much different. It’s all about GIN-etics with a brand new gin from Cheltenham; Sibling.

Earlier in June Sibling Distillery launched its first premium small batch gin, and as the name suggests, its run by four siblings. What might come as quite a surprise is that they’re all under the age of 23, with the youngest being just 15 years old! Don’t let age put you off though; Felix, Clarice, Cicely and Digby have grown up in the industry thanks to their parents owning Battledown Brewery, so they’re pretty clued up.

The Elliot-Berry clan consider themselves to be part of the ‘new generation’ of gin drinkers; not tied down with the notion of ‘tradition’, they’ve opted for an unusual still made of glass and steel – the first of its kind in Europe – and have some interesting ingredients too.

Having met with Felix and Cicely last week, they explained that their love of gin cocktails influenced their decision to start producing their own gin and, taste-wise, they wanted something so smooth that it could easily be drank on its own, over ice.

It took four months to create a base spirit that they were happy with – yup, they don’t buy it in – and its double filtered to ensure the cleanest slate possible before being distilled a third time with their chosen botanicals. Blueberries and vanilla are the main ingredients – these are what give Sibling its softness – along with orange, lemon, and some of the classics; cardamom, coriander, orris root, and liquorice. They prepare all the ingredients themselves – baking the blueberries, grating the zest, etc – ensuring the freshest flavours for the end product, and the water they use is sourced locally in Cheltenham.

Personally, what stands out most to me is the fact that juniper isn’t very prominent; quite curious for a gin. So how do you serve such a drink?

Other than sipping it on its own, it works well in a G&T. The ‘Sibling’s suggest Fever Tree tonic, with plenty of ice but no slice; citrus is a bit overpowering, but if you really want a garnish, then a twist of orange peel works well. Cocktails are the driving force behind the operation though, and the four are having fun experimenting with Sibling’s potential. There are a few ideas to try on their website, all with family orientated names, (the Sibling Spritz sounds gorgeous; gin, lime, vanilla, crushed blueberries and prosecco) but they’re keen to try more. In fact, whilst I was there they were playing around with a lychee liqueur, so keep your eyes peeled for a recipe including that.

At 42%, a bottle comes at a price of £32 (you can buy it direct from the Sibling Distillery website). A bloody beautiful bottle it is too. It’s currently working its way into a selection of bars in local areas, steadily progressing further afield. Actually, if you’re London-based, The Oliver Conquest stocks it and are making it July’s ‘Gin of the Month’, so go in and have a tipple.

What are you waiting for? Cancel your plans and have a bit of ‘family time’. *wink wink*

Friday, 27 June 2014

Celebratory Sorbets: Strawberry, Champagne and Elderflower Sorbet

It's been a bit of a wondrously happy week for us here at Vinspire. We've given away the third of our summer giveaway prizes, we've sipped some beautiful wines in the sunshine and we've surpassed 1000 fans on our Facebook page! So I decided this was ample reason to whip up a celebratory dessert or frozen cocktail creation.

The strawberries are SO good at this time of year that I had to include some of them, and I had some delicious (also in season) elderflower cordial to use up, and I think there's really only one perfect boozy accompaniment to these guys: CHAMPAGNE! It is a celebration, after all.

This sorbet is crazily easy to make (mine was ready to pop in the freezer within 20 minutes) and doesn't need an ice cream machine so literally anyone can make it. If you do have an ice cream machine, by all means use it - you'll get a smoother result - but I don't have one and it still turned out AWESOME (as you can see in the photos!)

Of course you don't have to use Champagne if you don't want to or can't afford it - any sparkling wine will be lovely, particularly a good prosecco or decent cava. I'll admit, I actually used a Cremant de Limoux in my recipe, and saved the Laurent-Perrier to drink WITH the dessert instead of in it...

Strawberry, Champagne and Elderflower sorbet recipe (serves four ample portions or three greedy ones!)


  • 300g strawberries (or whatever the punnet size is at your supermarket of choice!)
  • 80ml elderflower cordial
  • 300ml champagne or your sparkling wine of choice
  • 225g caster sugar

How to Make It:

1. In a small pan, gently heat the champagne and sugar together until the sugar is all dissolved (it will probably take about 3 minutes if you stir it). Then bring the mixture to the boil and let it simmer for around 5 minutes. Allow to cool (I put mine in the fridge and it was ready in 5!)

2. Whizz the strawberries in a blender and add the elderflower cordial - give it a good mix and allow the flavours to blend while the champagne syrup cools. If you're particularly house proud you can sieve the strawberry mixture to get rid of the seeds, but it honestly won't matter if you don't (I was feeling lazy and decided I didn't have time!)

3. Once the champagne syrup is totally cool, stir it together with the strawberry mixture (you'll need to work at it for a minute or so until the two mixtures blend properly.) Pour it into a shall tray or tupperware container and pop it in the freezer.

4. Take it out to give it a stir every so often (I did it every 40 minutes or so) for around 6-8 hours or until it's nice and scoopable. Serve with a glass of champagne - either in a separate glass or poured over the top for an extra refreshing after dinner treat.

Et voila! A boozy, fruity sorbet that's incredibly moreish. I particularly love this because you get the flavours in waves - first strawberry, then elderflower, then champagne. Here's to more brilliant weeks - I hope yours was just as good! 

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Sake and Spice at Moti Mahal

Whilst you might expect to see sake (traditional Japanese rice wine) alongside Japanese food, this week I learnt of the magic of sake and spice at Indian restaurant Moti Mahal in Covent Garden - it was a revelation.

The image of sake in the UK is much like we used to see sherry - old fashioned - but with sommeliers, restauranteurs and general drinks industry folk on board, that image looks set to change and jumping in with an open mind is step one.

Our host, beverage consultant Barry McCaughley, admitted it can be difficult to find drinks which pair well with Indian food given the diversity of spices and ingredients. The menu at Moti Mahal focuses on the cuisine of India's famed Grand Trunk Road and when first approached with the idea of pairing Japanese sake with the menu Barry had his doubts, but soon saw the potential in this unusual relationship.

Alongside Natsuki Kikuya - curator and director of the Museum of Sake London - Barry presented six different styles of sake, each next to a traditional Indian dish. The intention of each was to stimulate the tastebuds to appreciate the depth of Indian spicing and amplify the personality of the sake. And I have to admit, it worked.

On arrival we were greeted with a sparkling sake - cloudy in appearance, sweet and effervescent - with spiced cashews to whet the appetite. Made in the traditional Champagne method, sparkling sake undergoes secondary fermentation, though isn't disgorged, hence the cloudiness.

First course was Karree Bhyein aur Salad (crisp fried lotus stem and sprouted lentil salad), served with Fukukomachi Junmai Daiginjo from Kimura Brewery. Served cold to enhance the aromatics, this sake was incredibly fresh with aromas of fennel and licorice and a palate of sweet honeydew melon - a nice complement to the salty, spiced lotus stem which made the flavours of the sake pop. At 16.5% it also gets the heart racing and I can't help feeling lost in an abv between grape-based wine and a spirit!

Next to arrive was Sagar Rattan (seared scallops with sesame seeds, coriander and tamarind, served on top of crushed lime and cumin peas) - a delight on the eye as well as the palate.

Also served cold, our second sake of the evening, Atago no Sakura, Junmai Daiginjo from Niizawa Brewery is in the same sake category as the first, but with a slightly fuller body and seemed to bring out the cumin in the peas.

Our third course of Barra Peshwari (tandoor roasted lamb chops with kashmiri chillies, black lentil stew and mint 'n' cumin paratha) was accompanied with the 2012 IWC Grand Prix Champion Sake, Fukukomachi Daiginjo from Kimura Brewery. Served in a traditional pewter cup to almost purify what's inside, this displayed classic melon and Nashi pear aromas - somewhat more complex that the previous wines.

With the Murgh Biriyani (fennel scented chicken cooked with aromatic basmati rice, okra curry and pomegranate raita) came the Kimoto Classic Junmai from the Daishichi Brewery. The noticeable difference? This one was served warm.

Said to bring out the umami character in the wine, it's traditional to serve certain categories of sake warm, though perhaps this is what generates an unfashionable image. With a more neutral flavour but more body and texture, there is a hint of steamed rice, but unlike the sake previous, there is very little fruit character, and although it wasn't our most alcoholic sake of the evening, it certainly tasted it with a warm burn at the back of the throat. I must admit, I didn't enjoy this one.

Lastly we arrived at dessert. Oh dessert, how you pleased me! Aam Shrikhand (mango yoghurt panna cotta with peanut crush) with the delightful Kimoto Umeshu from Daishichi Brewery was simply the icing on the cake for this event. Infused with Japanese plum, this sweeter sake has an almond, almost Amaretto flavour which complemented the sweetness of the mango.

As with traditional food and wine pairings, the same principles apply - match acidity, sweetness and body to complement, or play the opposites attract game to enhance the food or wine in question. Though it's perceived that sake should be served warm, it depends on the category and quality of the wine and there is an emerging trend for more sake to be served cold. There was an almost unanimous agreement that the chilled sake were more enjoyable than the warm - is this what's going to get sake it's cool, hipster vibe? Serve chilled to be cool?

There's much to be said for sake - don't expect it to be anything like grape wine for starters! - and I would encourage an open mind. If you haven't yet embarked on your rice wine journey, it might pay to start with our Sake Simplified post - an introduction to the production and resulting sake styles.

Shout out and thanks to Barry, Natsuki, the Moti Mahal team and the PRCo team - "Kampai!"

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

English Summer: Chilgrove Gin

It's official, England have footballed badly and the team are heading home early. The prospect of a long summer of drinking, barbecues and watching England disappoint us later in the World Cup are hanging in tatters... it's time to get England back in our summer with a gin that's new on the scene!

Chilgrove is a new gin from beautiful Englishy Sussex, the newest released gin in the UK (having only been release two weeks ago) and unique as it is in the first English gin to have been distilled from grape spirit. This is a nod to the original Dutch spirit that lead to gin which was distilled from wine. Chilgrove is infused with 11 different botanicals and is billed as a gin for all seasons, unique, but with all the hallmarks of English gin.

On the nose there is a bucketload of juniper, orange, cloves and coriander along with liquorice, lime and a light touch of mint. The nose is wonderfully sweet and spicy and really jumps out of the glass, it beautifully fresh and zesty with great depth. 

On the palate the gin is surprisingly full bodied, it is quite thick coats your mouth. There is lovely pepper on the front of the palate with the orange and sweeter spices then coming through. The lime and other citrus fruits develop nicely in the finish which lasts well. This is a wonderfully round and layered gin that is soft and not too hot despite its 44% and can easily be drunk straight as a sipping gin. Chilgrove also makes a beautiful G&T and would be great in a martini.

This is a really fantastic gin, it has great flavour, is wonderfully polished, has decent complexity and to top it all is small-batched produced and fully British!

Pick up a bottle of Chilgrove gin from Master of Malt for £29, continue to enjoy the beautiful British weather we've been having and drown your sorrows at Rooney's perpetual failure.

The Last Wine That Left An Impression On Me

The last wine to leave an impression on me wasn't exactly a recent one, nor was it even one particular wine.
That's not to say that I haven't been "affected"(both emotionally and physically...) by any wines recently, I've been lucky enough to drink more than my fair share of breath-taking wines.
The last wine to truly leave an impression on me, in a way that totally altered my perspective on a large part of the wine industry was Champagne.

About this time last year, I was lucky enough to be invited on a week long study trip to Champagne, where I brushed shoulders with some of the region's most respected personalities, visited places that I was truly privileged to step foot in, burnt my mouth from the searing acidity of vin clair and spent an extremely hung-over morning wrapped around the loo at Krug - I subsequently learnt that Krug's NV is about the best hang-over cure ever.

At the start of the week, I had no idea what i was letting myself in for. I went there, like most people, thinking that Champagne was just an expensive drink for wealthy people. At the end of the week however, I thought pretty much the same... I also realised there was so much more to it than that.

It seems that the best way to have an impression left on you by a wine is to be totally immersed in it (there was sadly no Champagne lake to swim in). Through visiting 16 Champagne houses in 5 days, whether I had wanted to or not, I fell totally in love with it.
The passion that the producers had for everything that they do, the genuine belief that their methods are the best of the best, although everyone was doing it totally differently, was just amazing to experience. It was the heritage that struck me the most and I think this is something that is far too overlooked in the UK, where people simply look at the shiny labels and high prices.
The long and rich history of the families, producers and people are a huge part of the reason why the wines demand their high price; you are drinking a bit of history.

The visit to Champagne, tasting the wines in the places that they are made, with the people who made them, certainly left an impression on me. Maybe it had something to do with the glitz and glamour of the region's top houses but I don't really care, it's all part of the amazing package.

You can read my (rather euphoric) post about my trip, which i wrote not long after returning back home, by clicking on these handy words right here.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Wine for Beginners: Torrontés - "I like it a lot"

Photo: Jing (CCL)
Oh dear. Maybe I’m getting too big for my boots here, but I’ve gone and done it. I’ve only gone and written about wine. Before you judge me, I must admit I know very little about alcohol made from grapes (wine). When wine tasting I'm often like Jim Carey in Dumb and Dumber; "I like it a lot".

Argentina is famed for its Malbec varietal; something that only really hit home for me on a recent visit to Gaucho’s City branch. Great Steak, incredibly good wine list, very empty pockets afterwards.

Like most grape-growing climates, they usually fare best at just a few grape varieties, such as Chile with their Sauvignon, Carmenère & Merlot, Marlborough with its Pinot Noir & Sauvignon, and, as Laura pointed out earlier this week, Rueda with its Verdejo. This got me thinking. With all the hype around Argentinean Malbec, what white wines do they produce, are they any good, and why do we generally not hear more about them?

Following a quick chat with the rep at my wholesale wine merchants, she informed me that they do make wine which is white, and that its from a grape pretty much totally unique to the Argentine climate, AND that it’s pretty damn good.

Torrontés grows exceptionally in sunny
-yet-cool, dry and high-altitude vineyards. It is categorized by its big-impact aromas - such as green melon and stone fruits like peach and apricot - and a crisp, lingering finish.

I picked up two bottles (naturally, in the interest of a fair and objective comparison), one from Waitrose; Tilimuqui Single Vineyard 2013 (£7.99) and one from Majestic; Viñalba Selección Torrontés 2013 (£10.99 or £9.34 if you buy two!) for sampling on a sunny, midweek evening. But it was raining. Lots of raining. So I drank indoors because a blog must be blogged (that’s dedication, readers!).

The Tilimuqui had aromas of lychee, grapefruit, a peach bellini & and a little rose; ticking all the boxes for me at this stage. It’s like a soft Viognier, but a lot lighter. The taste is crisp and light with plenty of orange citrus and some melon. It’s got a little more acidity than I like, but it’s got a refreshing, zingy spritz that cleanses the palate beautifully and makes you want more. Lots, lots more!

The Viñalba was lighter and fresher, with more characteristics of a Marlborough Sauvignon; which I found a little disappointing as I was looking for something different from a variety I hadn’t had the fortune of trying before. I still finished the bottle (obviously), but forgot to take a picture of it because I was a little bit sozzled.

I enjoyed the Tilimuqui with a King Prawn Goan Curry (which my chefs cooked beautifully may I add) and the wine matched this perfectly. It’d be great with any spicy Asian dish or fragrant curries, as well as with seafood or a salad.

So yes, people, Argentina do have white wines to shout about, and especially Torrontés, because it's basically unique to them. I can’t pronounce it, and I don’t really know anything about wine, but I gave this wine writing thing a go.

What I can say though is that if you like fresh, vibrant whites with some characteristics of Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier, then give Torrontés a go - its perfect for summer evenings with a spicy BBQ and a group of friends!

Tuesday Beer: Underdog Atlantic Lager

As with any wino, I'm open to anything the booze world has to offer, but I'm still a bit of a Francophile when it comes to wine and no one does ale better than good ol' Blighty.

Over the last few months however, I find myself more often looking over the Atlantic for mind altering liquids. Everyone knows of the wine making prowess from the likes of California, New York and Washington,  but American beer certainly has something to say for itself. And no I'm not talking about Budweiser and Rolling Rock.

Lately I've been getting to know the Flying Dog Brewery. Originally founded in Colorado and named after an incident when the founder George Stranahan drunkenly saw a painting of a flying dog in a hotel in Pakistan after climbing K2. So a casual Tuesday then.

Underdog Atlantic Lager is one of their superb offerings. Golden yellow with a decent head, the nose is yeasty and biscuity with some sweet malt. On the palate it's rich and sweet with notes of caramel, nuts and refreshing citrus bite on the finish. A nice malty brew with a good kick of hoppy citrus to close. Unlike a lot of US beers, It's not a complete fruit bomb, but a simple, satisfying lager.

Underdog is available in 6 can packs from Majestic for £9.99 on their craft beer offer.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Monday Mix Up: The Aviation Cocktail

I know cocktails are usually a Friday feature over here, but sometimes it seems necessary - no - essential on a Monday.

With the World Cup being on the television every evening, it's easy to dapple in a bit of school-night drinking, and I don't know about you, but I feel I need consoling after seeing the abundance of pictures of people JETTING off to sunnier climates. Ok, I know we've had amazing weather over the past few weeks, but all those beach snaps and blue SKIES on instagram are making me green with envy. Now I'd quite like to start the week with FLYING colours, so here we have it, The Aviation.

The Aviation cocktail is a classic drink made with gin, maraschino liqueur, crème de violette, and lemon juice. Some recipes, including the one listed in The Savoy Cocktail Book, omit the crème de violette, whilst others shake it with an added egg white to give it a much creamier texture. Personally, I like it best served straight up with a cherry.

I can remember the exact moment when I first tried an Aviation, and shamefully it wasn't that long ago. I was visiting a friend in Plymouth, and she'd taken me for an afternoon cocktail at The Refectory Bar within Plymouth Gin Distillery. You can't really go wrong with their gin, it's a big brand but I'd probably put it up there as being one of the best, more easily affordable spirits. Anyway, with a strong list of all time favourites, and a few in house specialities, I plumped for an Aviation.

Out it came, in an ice cold martini glass, clear but tinged with lilac; and sat at the bottom was the plumpest, booziest, deep red cherry, begging to be eaten. I took the teeniest sip and instantly I knew I'd picked my perfect drink. Childhood memories of scoffing Parma Violets came flooding back - they were always the last sweets left in bumper packs because no one seemed to like them (crazy if you ask me) - and I was cursing myself for not having tried this sooner.

Anyway, if I were to only have one drink, this would definitely be in the running, and for that reason, it's probably quite a good'un for a Monday... Unless, however, you don't like the taste of violet, then maybe just try it without. I used Edmond Briottet Liqueur de Violette in mine, £17.52 from Master of Malt, though I've been eyeing up this beauty from The Bitter Truth, £21.01 also from Master of Malt. I haven't been specific on what gin to use, though I wouldn't choose anything too heavily spiced or peppery; Hendrick's and Bloom (currently on offer at £20 in Sainsbury's and Waitrose) would work well as they are both pretty floral in themselves, but you can just go with what you've got.

The Aviation Cocktail 
(serves 1)

You'll need
  • 50ml Gin
  • 10ml Maraschino Liqueur
  • 10ml Lemon Juice
  • 5ml Crème de Violette 
  • Ice
  • Maraschino Cherry (optional)


  1. Place your martini glass (or whatever you've got) in the freezer. 
  2. Put ice into your cocktail shaker and add the gin, maraschino, lemon juice and crème de violette. 
  3. Shake well, then remove your glass from the freezer. 
  4. Strain the drink into the glass, pop a maraschino cherry in, and enjoy. 

If, like me, you fancy celebrating the end of your first day at work for the week, treat yourself to a Monday cocktail, because - in a Loreal style -"you're worth it."

P.S. If you do go and buy some crème de violette, try it in a glass of champagne; it's amazing.

V is for Verdejo: The White Grape You Must Try This Summer

Photo: Aurelien S (CCL)

It all began on a spring evening at The Fox at Willian for The Boy's Ma's birthday dinner. I was driving  us all there (boo!) which OF COURSE meant that as soon as we arrived we discovered The Fox has one of the greatest wine lists of any restaurant in about a 20 mile radius of where I live. AND I COULDN'T HAVE ANY!

After a reasoned debate 'monumental hissy fit' that came very close to causing 'a scene', we all 'decided' I got to choose the group's first bottle of wine, and I was allowed one very small pity glass of it to shut me up.

My eyes were immediately drawn to a verdejo - a Spanish white grape variety which isn't often very expensive - so that's what we had. It was so good, it was all we could talk about until the group had finished the entire bottle, so naturally I'm here to tell you ALL to drink some. Drink some NOW.

Handy Verdejo Facts

Used for: Dry white wines
Origin: Spain
Most Commonly Grown In: A region called Rueda. For the Spanish Geography Beginners (i.e me) the Rueda region is in an area you can loosely describe as 'central western' Spain, not massively far from the Portuguese border and also about 170km north-west of Madrid. It's also not too far west of a better known wine region called Ribera del Duero.
How Long Has It Been Cool: Not Long. It really only started being made well in a modern style about 15 years ago.
What's It Like: To compare to better known varieties, I'd say it's kind of a cross between sauvignon blanc and chardonnay - it has some of sauvignon's aromatic freshness but it also has some of chardonnay's weight in a slightly rich and sometimes kind of creamy way.
Taste profile: Generally, think summery florals and grassiness, crisp citrus and fleshy stone fruits (like melon and peach), with creamy, sometimes nutty character too.
What's It Good For: Summer! And picnics. And pre-dinner drinks and nibbles. And pasta and salads
Eat it with: Light, summer dishes like pastas, salads and gazpacho.

I love it not only for its summery brightness and pleasingly punchy texture but because of the complexity you get for your buck - it's one of those 'no one's heard of it so we can't change through the roof prices' wines where at the moment you'll find bonkers value for money.

So where can you find one to try?
Good news - everywhere! Even if you've never noticed it, you'll find one in basically every supermarket, and even better examples at wine merchants throughout the land. Here are a few I've tried:

1. Vega de la Reina Verdejo, £9.99 or £7.49 if you buy two at Majestic (definitely buy two. Or six?)

From Rueda, this was a pretty safe benchmark verdejo that went down very easily indeed. Floral and crisp with a nice softness, this isn't as creamy or complex as some others, but it's absolutely perfect to sip when soaking up the last of the evening sun.

2. Sainsbury's Winemakers' El Pozo Bueno Rueda Verdejo, £6 or 2 for £10 until 1st July

At a fiver each in this offer, this really is impressive when you compare it to your average £5 sauvignon (i.e GOOSEBERRY AND ACID IN A GLASS) and is about 100 times better than the big branded sugar-filled stuff you might buy for £6 or £7 quid.

It's blended with a little bit of sauvignon so it's just as refreshing but slightly rounder. You won't get the same complexity as with more expensive versions but this really isn't bad at all.

3. For a similarly 'bloody hell that's cheap' tasty verdejo-sauvignon blend, try the Gran Familia Las Primas White at Tesco Wines. It's currently on offer at £30 per case of 6 - which is almost half it's normal price! It's peachy and very sippable when putting the world to rights with a friend or two.

4. Verdeja, Menade, Rueda Blanco, £8.99 from Adnams Cellars

Menade is a really good producer run by three siblings in Rueda, and they're pretty ace at creating super, fruit-driven wines for summer drinking. This is pretty much textbook verdejo at it's tastiest and I absolutely love it. I'll be popping into the nearby branch of Adnams when I'm in Norfolk next month (they have a few branches across the UK) but you can also buy it online, woohoo!

5. Las Olas Verdejo, £7.99 from The Wine Society

If you're lucky enough to be a member (seriously, join up already! Although I am probably biased because I work there) you can grab a bottle of this organic verdejo - also made by Menade - for even better value for money. It's honestly one of the best expressions of the grape you'll try and I can never stick to one glass when I buy a bottle...

There are many other varieties out there but these are the ones I've tried that made me very happy indeed. Even ASDA does a verdejo-chardonnay blend and Waitrose has put its name to a verdejo in its own wine range, so just get out there and find one to crack open before the sun goes in. And then let us know what you think!

Friday, 20 June 2014

Ultimate Wine Geek Homeware: Corkscrew Candleabra

My day has been completely made.

Whilst browsing through Not on the High Street for a birthday gift, something absolutely gorgeous caught my eye, but it wasn't until I looked closer that I saw just how perfect it is.

Design company Ginger Rose has come up with a sneaky and ingenious wine tool that will make your next dinner party much, much prettier - the wooden candelabra corkscrew!

Not only is it a cute wooden corkscrew that you can actually, you know, open bottles of wine with, it's also has three little holes in the top into which you can insert gorgeous candles!

So once you have an empty bottle and the light is starting to fade, just pop the cork (with the corkscrew still attached!) back into the bottle so it's nice and sturdy, add three candles in the corkscrew's hole, and light! Hey presto - gorgeous light-fitting and instant bottle recycling, hooray!

Whoever thought of this is definitely now up there with some of my favourite people. My only slight reservation is allowing my friends or I to go anywhere near fire when I've had half a bottle of wine... so I might just keep a pretty empty bottle handy so I don't need to finish one before I can light my candles...

The corkscrew candelabra is £26.95 from Not on the High Street and gets delivered pretty sharpish indeed. Who else wants one?

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Summer Drinking: Black Tower Skinny White and Rose

'Skinny on calories but ample on flavour' is the tagline for Black Tower's Skinny duo.

From the world's best selling German wine brand, Black Tower, this light style wine-drink was introduced to the range to to appeal to a growing consumer demand for lighter style and lower alcohol wines. Jumping to conclusions, I feel it's aimed at women who want to have it all - wine and the figure of Kate Moss.

With it's pink packaging and obvious positioning of the word Skinny, this is marketing at its best and I have visions of women accross the country excitedly muttering to themsleves "ooh I can drink wine and lose weight!" *pops a bottle in the baskets along with low-fat cheese and 0% fat sweets*.

As a frequent drinker of 'normal' wine, cocktails and spirits, the Skinnys' low abv of just 5.5% is a far cry from my normal tipple, and I sigh that it's practically a soft drink.

Initial impressions aside, I popped into my local Tesco to pick up a bottle each of the Black Tower Skinny White (£3.99 per bottle) and the Black Tower Skinny Rose (£3.99 per bottle). Though it's found in the wine aisle, with only 5.5% abv, no specified grape variety, no regionality and no vintage, I can't help feeling that it's out of place and I struggle to justify the £4.99 price tag of the white for its lack of 'wineness'. Call me stingy (I am) but it's like waiting twenty minutes in the intermission at a music gig to find a plastic cup of lemonade is a fiver...

On closer inspection of the label, it states that it's an alcohol reduced, wine-based drink. Which puts it in the in-between category - not quite a soft drink and not quite a wine. In my opinion, a wine that's had the life sucked out of it! At 55 calories per 125ml glass, it's less than a normal glass of wine, so yes, I can see the appeal to some, but I m still not sure.

Despite my hesitations, I chilled them in the fridge for about twenty minutes, then filled a glass and popped in a couple of ice cubes (shoot me, it was warm and it's not normal wine!).

I was expecting this pair to be sweet and reminiscent of some of the sickly Blossom Hill and Gallo wines I'd tried before - especially as they're from a German producer - but there was a refreshing acitidy to both to keep the balance in check, though the overall result is a medium sweetness.

With a summer fruit flavour of strawberry, raspberry and cranberry, the rose is my preference of the two, and it made a nice accompaniment to the Asian salad we had for dinner. The white has flavours of apple and pears (and dare I say cucumber?), but I didn't feel it was as enjoyable as the rose - it was a little further from wine and closer to a soft drink.

As a wine geek, I can't say the Skinnys appeal to my drinking habits and my search for the holy wine grail (afterall all, they are only wine-based), but I can appreciate their place in the right situation.

For lazy summer picnics, light al fresco lunches in the sunshine or sizzling, early evening barbeques, the low alcohol, light, refreshing flavour and screwcap closure tick a lot of the summer drinking boxes and yes, they are pleasant enough to drink.

Truth be told, I have never been a great believer in 'skinny' wine, or wine-based drinks - either make a wine, or don't. For me, it's like vegetarians eating Quorn mince - why pretend to be something you're not? As for Black Tower Skinnys? Well, I can understand the allure - low in calories, low in alcohol, but I still can't help the feeling that I want to be in the wine camp, or the soft drink camp, not somewhere in the middle.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

World Cup Dream Team of Booze!

World Cup fever is in full swing, and although England might not make it out of the group stages, just like the majority of the country I’m getting involved and pretending to know what I’m talking about.

My friends have talked of nothing in recent weeks except their World Cup Dream Team, stats and players. This is a group conversation I have quite rightly been left out of as I barely know what colour teams play in, let alone about individual players and stats. A bit like Adrian Chiles and ITV then…

So, on to something I do know a thing or two about. Here’s my World Cup Dream Team of Doom. Sorry, I mean Booze. In typical English fashion, I’m sporting a 4-4-2 formation.


Up front I want someone brash but disciplined, fast and fluid with a great finish. I want Van Persie, who I renamed on Friday Salmon Van Persie (see right) after that incredible flying header. I’ve got Holland in a sweep, and they won me £140 at the weekend, so it seems fitting that we go for a beer from a Dutch Brewery. Mikkeller was founded in 2006 by Maths-teacher-turned-brewer Mikkel Borg Bjergsø. After 8 years in the game, he and his beers are in their prime, and it’s their collaboration beer with Brewdog ‘I Hardcore You’ that I’ll be taking with me to Brazil.

Mid Field

In mid-field I want control and range, but the ability to tackle hard. Confidence and consistency is important too, and the element of surprise. Juan Mata has all of these qualities, and therefore it seems fitting to choose a Spanish beer. Rewind to last week, and my blog on my favourite beer. With a steady and consistent output, a potentially hard-hitting 6% ABV and the surprising Rosemary and Honey tones, La Socarrada is perfect.


A wall of deference is vital in a World Cup. It’s crucial to stop goals; not just to win games, but also to limit the goal difference that could see your opponent go through instead of you. Hops have natural antibacterial qualities, and help us build a natural defence against allsorts of nasties. The team’s health is paramount, and that’s why I’m taking a massive ‘Hop-Bomb’ of a beer with me to Brazil. 

Sierra Nevada’s Torpedo Extra is an assertive IPA with a dry finish and hints of grapefruit, pineapple, pine and caramel.


In goal I need something reliable to stop me scoring an own goal. My fall back drink needs to be a last resort. When the rest of my team is flagging this drink will be something that will see me through. Rum and Coke with a squeeze of Lime (Cuba Libre stylee) is always my fall back. My favourite rum is Diplomatico, from Venezuela, and although they haven’t qualified for this World Cup, they do share a border with Brazil, and they’re not that bad at football. Are they? I dunno.

Rich, sweet, smooth and fruity, the Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva is the most decorated Rum in the world, and therefore is thoroughly deserving of a place in my Dream Team. You can pick up a bottle from Edelices for only £29.75


To manage my team, I need a brewery who is smart, well-presented and lead by example. No regard for competition or what the press say, my manager needs to concentrate on the task in hand. The Kernel Brewery think outside of the box and are willing to take risks. Young and determined, The Kernel will carry my team to glory; upsetting trends, the bookies favourites and will put my team on everybody’s lips (literally!)

So, you heard it here first. Forget Rooney, Gerard and Wellbeck, what we really need to get us through the group stages is booze! And lots of it!