Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Buttered Booze: 2 Easy Hot Cocktails for Christmas

It's Christmas Eve-Eve - YAY - and if you're not feeling festive, it's time to hit the hot cocktails to help you along the way.

I'll set the scene; PJs on, lights turned down low, all snuggled up on the sofa watching your favourite seasonal film, with the Christmas lights seductively twinkling at you from the tree... What's missing? Booze! A hot boozy drink makes the whole scenario just perfect.

We've featured lots of hot cocktails on Vinspire over the years:


I think we can squeeze in a couple more, don't you think? 

Butter topped booze is a great way to add richness and indulgence without the need for using anything milky or creamy, and unless you love being the cat that's got the cream, too many eggnogs sure make you feel lactose-comatosed. 

I've concocted two super easy cocktails for you here; one with bourbon and Chase Marmalade Vodka (Cointreau would work just as well too), and the other with gin and perry cider. Using browned butter adds an interesting nuttiness, as opposed to your standard stuff (find out how to do it here), and it creates little buttery baubles on the top of your drink - very apt. 

Both are so damn tasty, you'll definitely want more than just the one. So line up the films, you're here for the long haul... Merry Christmas!

Buttered Bourbon & Marmalade (serves 1)

  • 25ml Bourbon
  • 50ml Chase Marmalade Vodka
  • 15ml Sugar Syrup
  • 25ml Lemon Juice
  • 150ml Hot Water
  • 1tsp Browned Butter
  • Cinnamon Stick

In a glass, add the spirits, lemon juice and sugar syrup. 
Pour in the hot water, and top with the browned butter. Stir to melt the butter and garnish with a cinnamon stick. 

Buttered G & P (serves 2)

  • 1 x 330ml Bottle of Perry
  • 2 x 40ml Gin 
  • 2 x 1tsp Browned Butter

Heat up the perry in a small saucepan, making sure not to let it boil, and get two glasses out.
Add a shot of gin and a teaspoon of browned butter in each glass. 
When the perry is steaming, divide between the glasses, stir and enjoy! (If it's not sweet enough to your taste, add a bit of sugar syrup)


Lead image credit: Geoff Stearns under CCL

Friday, 18 December 2015

Biostilla Organic Amaretto - Review



The lovely chaps at organic wine retailer Vintage Roots very kindly kicked off our Christmas a little early, by sending over a bottle of Biostilla Amaretto Deluxe Organic. And a very pretty bottle it is, too. I mean just look at it...



What's more, it tastes as good as it looks! As an Amaretto lover who usually reserves a bottle of the good stuff for Christmas, I was more than happy to crack into this.


It's fragrant, with a floral, sweet, vanilla scent. It's smooth, with no alcohol smell. The consistency is thicker and more viscous than other Amarettos I've tried. There's a real richness and an intense flavour that lasts on the palate. 


Biostilla use natural almond oil (unlike most Amaretto drinks, which contain commercial flavourings), as well as organic vanilla and cocoa beans.


Want to try it for yourself? The good news is, it's on offer at just £23 a bottle. Get it, or one of the many other festive offers here.


Monday, 14 December 2015

Boozy Festive Foods: Port Mince Pie Brownies

Ok guys, we're on the countdown to Christmas, and seeing as it's the season to overindulge, I've got a right royal recipe for you to try out.

Remember last Christmas when I gave you The Best Boozy Christmas Canapés list? Well, last but not least was Nigella's Cranberry-studded mincemeat, and it's a recipe I follow every year for mince pie making. It's drenched in booze - both port and brandy (of which I'm very heavy handed with) - and isn't tooth achingly sweet thanks to the tart fresh cranberries, and everyone always comments on the difference in taste in comparison to the shop bought stuff. 

Having bade a few batches of festive treats a couple of weeks ago, I had a pretty pathetic portion of the mincemeat leftover. Not wanting to bother with pastry for such a small amount, and not wanting to waste it, I decided to come up with a new use… I give you Port Mince Pie Brownies! 

I'm doubling up on Nigella here by adapting her 'Everyday Brownies' recipe; both seriously easy and seriously good, within an hour you can have your house filled with seductive chocolatey aromas and can have a slab of gooey molten brownie shoveled into your face. 

Adding spoonfuls of mincemeat, which you've happily sploshed extra Port into, and gently folding the mix before baking, you get lovely Christmassy flavours throughout, but gain little mince pie pockets of deliciousness too. 

They have that desirable brownie squidge, made extra squidgy from the mincemeat, but if you put them in the fridge, they go fudge-like and seem even more luxurious. FYI, they're definitely easier to cut when they're like this. 

So, if you like mince pies and like brownies, then this is DEFINITELY a recipe for you. It's a Christmas chocolate dream… And should definitely be eaten with a healthy sized glass of Port. 

Merry Christmas! 

Port Mince Pie Brownies
(Makes 12)

You'll need:
  • 150g unsalted butter
  • 300g light brown muscovado sugar
  • 75g cocoa powder, sifted
  • 150g plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • pinch of salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 100g mincemeat (preferrably Nigella's Cranberry-Studded, but shop bought will do)
  • 20ml port
  • 100g milk chocolate, chopped into small chunks
  • 60g walnuts, chopped
Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 190C/170C fan. Grease and line a 23cm square baking tin with baking parchment.
  2. Melt the butter over a gentle heat in a medium sized saucepan. Whilst you're doing this, add the port to the mincemeat and stir until combined.
  3. When the butter's melted, add the sugar, stirring with a wooden spoon (still over a low heat) to help it blend with the melted butter.
  4. Sift together the cocoa powder, flour, bicarb, salt and then stir into the pan; when mixed (this will be a very dry mixture, and not wholly blended at this stage), remove from the heat.
  5. In a bowl or jug, whisk the eggs with the vanilla extract and then mix into the brownie mixture in the pan.
  6. Add the chopped chocolate, walnuts, and spoon in teaspoonfuls of your mincemeat. Fold and quickly pour into a baking tin and bake for approximately 20-25 minutes.
  7. It will look set, dark and dry on top, but when you feel the surface, you will sense it is still wobbly underneath and a cake tester will come out gooey. This is what you want.
  8. Leave to cool in the tin for 15 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack (still in baking parchment).

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Your Christmas wine needs taken care of with Your Sommelier



'Tis the season to buy wine. Tra la la la la.... 

For a lot of wine lovers Christmas provides an opportunity for a little indulgence. Time to splash out on the nice stuff as a treat for the whole family. I mean what says Christmas more than popping the cork on something sparkly, whilst sitting down to watch The Muppet Christmas Carol? 

However, you don't want your wine buying to be another thing that adds to your stress levels, what with hangovers after Christmas parties, last minute Christmas shopping and trying to find that Christmas jumper that you bought last year... 

Step forward French wine specialist and independent online wine retailer Your Sommelier. They are hosting their first ever Flash Sale of some rather fine French wines between 9 and 21 December 2015 - just in time for delivery to your house for Christmas! To buy their wines you have to sign up for membership - fortunately this does not cost you anything and you also receive a £20 voucher towards your first purchase (note: valid for orders over £80).

The wines

Their wine list is unashamedly French, featuring all of the usual suspects, and has been crafted by their chief wine buyer Celian Ravel d'Estienne. 

I tried a few of the wines from their range last week:

NV Gimonnet-Gonet Brut Rosé (Champagne, France) £25/bottle, this is a rosé champagne made from 90% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Noir and made by a small family Champagne house. I am not usually the biggest fan of non-vintage champagnes and would prefer for the price to go for English sparkling or a decent Cava, however I was very impressed with this wine. In the glass it sits quite a vibrant pink. On smelling I found the nose to have a delicate pink grapefruit aroma, not overly expressive and rather polite. On the palate it had a pleasing fruitiness to it with juicy, fresh raspberries and strawberries coming through. The wine had a nice foamy, moussy mouth feel to it and a balanced finish. This was a poised and refined wine for a very decent price, considering it's a Champagne. Quality:8.0; Value: 8.5.

2010 Chateau Saint Valery St Emilion Grand Crus (Bordeaux, France) £15/bottle. Having visited St Emilion earlier this year I was excited about trying this wine. In the glass it was a deep, intense red. On the nose I found there to be a deep red cherry aroma coupled with blackcurrant juiciness. There were quite a few secondary aromas going on too: a bit of funky leather, plus a touch of smoke. On the palate it was a little one-dimensional and did not quite deliver on what the nose promised; there were big red cherry and strawberry flavours, but not a lot else. I was hoping for a little more from this wine. Quality: 6.0; Value: 6.0

2012 Domaine Tour St Michel Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée des Deux Soeurs (Southern Rhone, France), £23/bottle. This wine had a very deep ruby to its colour in the glass. On the nose it really came alive, it was heady with lush red cherries aromas and had a strong secondary profile featuring cloves. On tasting it started off with a quite light blackcurrant and blueberry flavour profile, which became more and more luscious and juicy as it got time to breathe. This one is certainly one to open and give at least two hours in a decanter to really get it to soften up. Lovely! Quality: 7.5; Value: 6.5.

2013 Domaine Hubert Brochard Pouilly-Fumé Classique (Loire, France), £13/bottle. If you've followed my posts for a while then you will know that I am a fan of Sauvignon Blancs from the Loire (certainly versus Marlborough). This was right up my street. On the nose it had some bright tropical fruit aromas of pineapple and kiwi, on tasting it had a pleasingly elegant smattering of quince, red apple and lemon aromas. It was just what I like from a Loire Sauvignon Blanc, verging on the under-stated (as opposed to those Malborough ones that you can smell around a corner...!). Quality: 7.0; Value: 8.0.

So, there you have it - I highly recommend signing up and checking out the offerings on Your Sommelier. You can have all of your Christmas wines delivered right to your front door, leaving you more time to get on with enjoying the festive season!

Disclaimer: I was sent the wines as samples; the opinions contained within this piece are my own.     

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Cadman Fine Wines - Review



Ahhhh Christmas.

When the tones of 'Good King Wenceslas' drift along the stiff breeze and make even the hardiest of Goth rockers all fuzzy inside; when setting fire to puddings isn't considered a Health and Safety risk, but a festive piece of theatre and when wearing embarrassing knitwear doesn't lead to horrific banter from your mates, but rounds of applause as you enter the room.

Christmas is the only time of the year where the conventions of the past 11 months and 2 weeks are put to one side and for 2 sweet weeks, I couldn't care less about my waistline, the strain on my overdraft or the fact I shouldn't play with my nephew's presents before I wrap them.

This exact same fact is representative of my wine choices. Working in the industry means I have a lot of good, bad and truly ugly wines within my grasp on a daily basis, but when we get to December, I look to trade up, try something new, go that extra mile in finding the perfect bottle for the 25th day. So when I got the opportunity to explore the range offered by Cadman Fine Wines in Northampton, I was on it quicker than Rudolf on a herbal nasal spray.

I did a bit of reading up on the history of this company that, in all honesty, I had seen a bit in various wine publications, but had no idea about its set-up. Founded in 2004, Cadman was the brainchild of Giles Cadman, who wanted to give people the opportunity to buy the 'the best years of the special bottles ' by the individual bottle, rather than having to splash out on the entire case, or having to stash them away for donkey's years and twiddle your thumbs in anticipation. They are an online retailer (they have offices, if you'd like to pick up bottles yourself, but no retail outlet) and ship all over the country and the world.

Drilling down into what I really wanted to know, I got stuck into discovering the range. What was going to be stashed in the secretive vaults of this place that would tempt me to part with a good wedge of money this Xmas? Turns out that they have all and everything that you could desire, from decently priced gluggers that would please any 'wine guru' neighbour that you have coming over on Boxing Day, right through to the Bobby Dazzler bottles that will leave you shoving the turkey to one side and saving space for another glass.


Top choices for the showstopper bottles are the Chateau Lalande-Borie 2005, which got a fantastic reception from the world's most famous wine critic, Robert Parker, and from a well celebrated vintage, a worthy price of £34.95 a bottle. Another one on my radar was the lovely plump and developed D'Arenberg 'The Dead Arm' Shiraz 2010, a favourite of mine from any year, but at £37.50 a bottle for something of that age, its a real steal. If you really fancy shoving a few quid into something to make your jaw drop, then go for the Chassagne Montrachet 1er Cru Morgeots 2011, Pierre Bouree at £55 and take your time to wake up from your wine-induced nirvana.

However, as much as we'd all like to think that we could throw back fine Claret and sip spine-tingling vintage Champagne everyday for the rest of our lives, its good that they also do some more moderately priced wines that you can chug on without the guilt trip. I was given the opportunity to try their two best selling lines from their everyday range, starting with the Jose Pariente Verdejo 2013 from Spain, priced at £11.25 a bottle. A light lemon colour, with flecks of green, this was a classic Rueda wine. Flashes of clementine, peach and confected lemon on the nose drew me in to a slurp which was balanced and fruity. It would take a lot for me not to like a white from this region, but this was still a mighty tasty wine. For the red, I was treated to the Domaine de Fondreche Cotes du Ventoux 2013, priced at £10.79, from the south of France. A chunky purple colour, it had a lot of weight of fruit in the nose, with some gutsy earthy spice wrapped around morello cherries and tart blackcurrants in the mouth. A winter wine to take the chill off your bones if there ever was one. They also do a vast array of other good daily drinking drops from Italian Trebbianos, Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire and Malbec from the smaller regions of France to keep your eyes and tastebuds hooked.

So, this Christmas, look beyond the well trodden high street fair and seek out some gems off the beaten track. You may just find something to jingle your bells and deck your halls...

If you'd like to discover Cadman's wines for yourself, log yourself onto www.cadmanfinewines.co.uk and explore.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Best Of British Beer: Ho Ho Ho Crate.

It's always nice when an early Christmas present arrives in the post. Even nicer when it comes in the form of Best Of British Beers Ho Ho Ho Crate! As many of you know I am a huge fan of these chaps and it was jolly nice of them to send me this gorgeous thing as a little present so I can tell all of you just how awesome it is.

Best Of British Beer do some amazing gifts from personalised beers, specially mixed cases and even beer advent calendars (it's not too late!) I can't think of anyone who wouldn't want to unwrap one of these beauts on Christmas morning.

Let me take you through the many reasons why this crate is great.

First of all, LOOK AT IT!! So beautifully presented in a handmade pine crate and decorated like your favourite Christmas jumper.

What's even more great is what's inside it. Nine hand-selected beers from the 2015 Christmas collection. There's all sorts of winter warmers inside. A rich ruby ale in the form of Great Newsome Brewery Winter Warmth, a fruity and spicy number with plenty of backbone.

There are deliciously smoky porters. The offering from The Hop Studio, aptly named Humbug smells of roaring log fires and chestnuts roasting upon it. Cheddar Ales take a slightly different approach with their Festive Totty, a Porter with Port! It's like Christmas in a glass! Spicy, fruity, malty and with hints of raisins.

Strong ales feature heavily with an appearance from Byatt's Brewery XXXmas. A naughty little number that comes alive as soon as it touches your tongue with lashings of Christmas spice and a really long bitter finish. Wentworth Brewery throw in Snowman's Revenge whose caramel and nutty notes are just what's needed when curling up on a cold night.

Two surprises were a couple of wonderfully different golden ales. Hopsicle, a very limited edition brew from the chaps at BOBB themselves is probably one of my favourites of the case. It's full of tropical fruit and grassy notes that one would find in a more summery brew. Ding Dong from Monty's is crisp and dry and perfect for the New Years Eve session.

Finishing it all off is Black Elf, a black pale ale from Ridgeway Brewing. Red fruit, burnt sugar and a real mouth drying bitterness are all abundant and the perfect way to finish off the greatest Christmas beer case ever!

It's on at an amazing £34.50 from Best Of British Beer and in all honesty, I think that is an excellent price. If you're worried about delivery, don't worry, it does come delivered inside a plain looking cardboard box so as not to ruin the surprise. Plus it makes it easier to wrap! Better act quick though because it's only reduced until December 10th!

DID I MENTION CHRISTMAS?!?!?!

Christmas wine: Wines to match turkey


Over the ten years I've been in the wine industry, few occasions have caused more excitement and experimentation amongst my colleagues and I than picking the perfect wine to go with roast turkey and all the trimmings.

Christmas dinner is the best meal of the year (FACT) so there's no better time to splash out and buy a special wine to accompany it. You don't even have to spend that much - there's plenty of epic turkey wine pairings for those on a budget.

Here's some of the best wine matches for Christmas dinner that I've found over the years*:


1. Spicy Rhone

This was my first proper 'wow' moment with food and wine matching, back when I first started working in wine.

I'd never considered a full-bodied, spicy red wine as a match for white meat, but this really works. I think it's because we usually serve turkey not just with your average vegetables, but with pigs in blankets, mounds of stuffing, cranberry sauce and sticky, rich glazed veg.

That's a lot of flavour, and it needs a wine with similar punch to stand up to it.

The exact I used all those years ago was the epic southern Rhone Lirac Rouge La Fermade Domaine Maby (£9.50 at The Wine Society, £12.95 at Yapp and Vin Neuf). It's made not far from Chateauneuf and gives a little bit of the same kind of character but at a fraction of the price.

But just ask your local wine merchant for a good spicy red Rhone and you'll be laughing.



2. Californian Zinfandel

This is my cheeky favourite. It's another trick I discovered at The Wine Society and it's been my turkey wine of choice for the last two years.

Think of it this way: what goes brilliantly with turkey? Juicy, boozy cranberry sauce. And zinfandel provides just that kind of character - big alcohol, big fruit and often lots of cranberry flavour. It's another wine with body enough to go with all the trimmings - we always need at least two bottles.

The one that first convinced me was Ravenswood Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel (usually £8-10 at Sainsburys, Ocado and Tesco) and to be honest I really don't think you need to spend more.



3. Pinot Noir (particularly older Burgundy)

More of a classic match, this - but the old ones are often the best. Although a young pinot noir might not necessarily have the same kind of body to go with all the trimmings as the other two reds I've mentioned so far, it's definitely got that wonderful red fruit flavour and silky texture that makes it a super match.

Mature red Burgundy is one of those quintessential Christmas dinner wines (and the soft tannins do make it a good candidate) and I'd advise going for the best you can afford. That said, new world pinot noir from New Zealand is another epic match.

I'm not going to list all the amazing New Zealand pinot noirs out there - there's so many good ones to choose from - but if you're really on a budget or looking for a bargain then I'd suggest Aldi's Exquisite Collection New Zealand Pinot Noir. In typical Aldi fashion, it's a multi-award-winner and yet it's only £6.99. Madness.


4. Rich Chardonnay

If there's one white that can stand up to Christmas dinner, it's rich, creamy white Burgundy and new world Chardonnay. The buttery taste works really well with fat, juicy slices of turkey, and apple and stone fruits you so often get work well with the sausages and stuffing.

A good buttery Burgundy that doesn't break the bank is Montagny 1er Cru 'Les Millieres' by Caves des Vignerons de Buxy (currently £9.74 if you're buying a mixed case of six or more bottles from Majestic, or £12.99 if you're buying less than 6 bottles overall).

As for the new world, another BRILLIANT bit of schooling from The Wine Society was that their Exhibition Chilean Chardonnay is the absolute boss of turkey. How it's only £8.95 I will never know.



5. Beaujolais

So, this is sort of a classic and yet it's like the other classic turkey matches' geeky cousin, because not many people seem happy to suggest Beaujolais.

That said, it is a brilliant match on paper - not too many tannins, big red juicy flavour and smooth texture. Plus, if you're having Christmas dinner at lunch then it's generally a good low-alcohol option too - so you won't doze off during the Queen's speech.

Most people suggest going with the Beaujolais crus such as Fleurie, Morgon and Moulin a Vent - a reliable and widely available choice is Bouchard Pere et Fils Fleurie (currently £11.99 at Waitrose). For a more budget option, try Beaujolais-Villages from Georges Duboeuf (currently £7.49 at Majestic). It's super-fruity and soft - very drinkable indeed.


*Never before when writing a blog post have I SO CRAVED the food I'm writing about. Would give my left arm for a buttery turkey sandwich right about now... BRING ON THE LEFTOVERS!

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Our 5 top extra-special gins to give as a present


Are you dreaming of a gin-filled Christmas? Yes, me too. The day of eating my weight in cheese and slowly drifting into a gin-fuelled coma with all my loved ones is drawing ever closer.

Maybe you're hoping to buy some gin as a gift for someone? Or maybe you're thinking it's about time you treated YOURSELF seeing as you're already bankrupting yourself on presents. (This is probably a bad time to mention our gin gift guide, isn't it?)

Either way, the best thing you can do is veer away from the big-brand favourites and buy the gin less travelled (?!) - and there's so many brilliant, unique gins out there to choose from! And some of them even combine TWO passions - like gin and movies, or gin and classic literature.

You can take a look at our gin reviews (we've done A LOT) but here's a list of my top 5 super special gins to buy for Christmas:


1. For that one friend who likes to drink gin neat: Warner Edwards (from £24.95 - available widely, including John Lewis, Master of Malt and The Wine Society)

I've said it before, many times, but I'll say it again: WARNER EDWARDS IS MY FAVOURITE GIN OF ALL TIME. And there's FOUR of them - Harrington Dry, sloe, rhubarb and elderflower (we've tried them all).

As well as being perhaps the tastiest gin I've ever had, it's also the only gin I've ever genuinely enjoyed drinking neat over ice. It's THAT good.


2. For the seaside lover: Da Mhile Seaweed Gin, (around £30 - from Master of Malt, The Whisky Exchange and direct)

Another one of my top gins of all time, and really something special. This is minerally, with amazing cardamom notes and something 'sea air' in the aroma and taste. Utterly delicious - a real gin to linger over. And frankly superb value for money.


3. For the do-gooder and/or animal lover: Elephant Gin (around £29.50 from Master of Malt and The Whisky Exchange) and 1897 Quinine Gin (£39.95 from Master of Malt)

Christmas is a time for giving, of course, and this is a really feel-good pair of gins, as both of them donate some of their profits to charity! Elephant gin helps (have you guessed yet?) elephant conservation, and 1897 Quinine gives money to fight malaria. And they're both really wonderful gins as well.


4. For the literary gin fan: Bath gin (£36.50, Master of Malt and direct)

When Lucienne first told us about Bath gin last year, I was smitten - it has a cheeky, winking Jane Austen on the label! It's also made with a lot of love - and Lucienne loved it when she tried it, so that's a proper Vinspire seal of approval.


5. For the classic Hollywood gin fan: Bogart's gin, £30 (direct)

This gin, dedicated to the Hollywood legend Humphrey Bogart, was created last year as a collaboration between Rok Drinks and the estate of the man himself. It has his son's seal of approval, too, as his dad used to adore gin, and I reckon he'd have loved this one - it's been infused with coriander, macadamia nuts and citrus zest.

Pretty epic drink to sip for film lovers - especially in front of Casablanca while watching Bogart himself say his classic "of all the gin joints" line.

Monday, 30 November 2015

Super Fine Fizz For The Festive Season

CCL: Sam Howzit

We all love fizz. Whether you're celebrating or simply sipping, it adds a bit of sparkle to any occasion, and there's no better need for popping the cork than the festive season. Christmas and New Year are prime time for cracking out the fancy flutes, so after attending a Champagne event at Cheltenham's Tivoli Wines earlier this month, I've got a quick round up of the best bottles to be stocking up with.

If it's English fizz you're after, then check out my previous post from the English Wine Trade Tasting; this one is all about the French! And whilst Champagne can reach ridiculous prices, if you're going to splash out, Christmas is the time to do it. Here's a selection of my faves from the night:

Pierre Gimonnet 

Gimmonet, a growers Champagne, is the only house in Champagne to preserve all reserve wines in bottle. Instead of the usual stainless-steel tanks, the reserve wines are aged in bottle and then several vintages are chosen to be blended with a young wine. Characteristics of each, small vineyard parcel are preserved, resulting in something that has great complexity and mellowness, yet also the freshness and vitality of young Champagne. Dosage is deliberately kept to a minimum in order to maintain purity of fruit, maximum acidity and freshness, and this no-oak 'house style' runs like a vein throughout their entire range.

Pierre Gimonnet NV Cuis 1er Cru is their entry level wine, but with 100% Chardonnay, it sure doesn't taste it. A pure, floral nose, its palate has a racy citrus energy, with stonefruit, acacia, and a faint nutty finish. At £23.70 from The Drink Shop, this is incredibly good value for money.

The 2008 Special Club, rated by many critics as one of the best in Champagne, is their top end offering, and at £53.95 from Plus de bulles, it's still not very pricey for fancy fizz. This is the winemaker's favourite vintage, and with more lees ageing, its much rounder. You pick up the same floral citrus notes as the NV, but there's a finer mousse, nuttier taste, and a bigger mouth feel. Delicious.

Ayala

Based in Aÿ, right at the heart of the Champagne region, Ayala's roots date back over 150 years. Edmond de Ayala, established the house in 1860, and during the 1920's over a million bottles of Ayala were produced. As the Second World War began, Ayala took a step back and produced much smaller batches of quality champagne, then in 2005 Bollinger purchased the estate with the aim to restore it to it's former glory.

For the price, Ayala's Brut Majeur NV is excellent. Pale gold in colour, it has an expressive nose with citrus, flowers and fleshy fruits. It's clean and has a slick mousse, but there are toasty, caramelised biscuity flavours in there too, giving it a classic Champagne style complexity. At £24.95 from Champagne Direct, it's ideal as an aperitif on Christmas morning.

Billecart-Salmon

Billecart-Salmon, a medium-size Champagne House in Mareuil-sur-Ay, was founded in 1818 by the original owners Nicolas Francois Billecart and Elisabeth Salmon who combined their names on marriage to create the brand. Renowned for their quality and meticulous production techniques, they're one of the few remaining Champagne houses to remain family owned, and they consistently produce top-notch wines.

If the snow white label of the Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru NV isn't enough to make you want it over the festive season, then the taste of it sure will. It has been elaborated from the five grand cru vineyards of the Cðte des Blancs and is a blend of two different years, ensuring the Chardonnay grapes are giving their all. Mineral lemony notes, along with peach and pink lady apples are both quenching and moreish, then the delicate bubbles and glimmering gold, match the slight buttery characteristics and elegant almond finish. Available from Amazon for £54.99.

Stepping up in the price point, Cuvée Nicolas-Francois Billecart 1999 has received high points from all the wine critics since it was released. There's a richer, creamier feel about this Champagne, which is 60-40 Pinot - Chardonnay, and a doughy plushness makes you want to keep diving in. It's balanced by lemon curd freshness and saline minerality, giving it a unique character and therefore making it worth the £74.99 it costs (from Amazon).

Thiénot  

Over the past 25 years, owner Alain Thienot has remained faithful to the key values which have built this producer’s world renowned reputation – quality, modernity and luxury. His motto reads; “A single passion: wine. A single obsession: quality”, and this attention to detail is key in him producing some of the region’s finest vintages.

Thiénot Cuvée Garance Blanc de Rouges 2007 is 100% Pinot Noir, but instead of 'Blanc de Noirs' they've chosen to call it 'Blanc de Rouges' because of the effort that they put into keeping the wine feminine (whatever that means). A large proportion of the fruit comes from the grand cru Ay that the family purchased from Krug, as well as from Garance's own personal vines in the village of Tauxieres, on the border with Bouzy. A red-fruit and floral nose leads to a long soft palate of sweet fruits, and subtle yeastiness, finishing beautifully balanced and delicately dry. Available for £61.99 from The Wine Library.

At basically the same price, Cuvée Alain Thiénot 2002 exemplifies the trademark faire and exacting standards that are synonymous with the Thiénot Champagne house. A stunning blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, which is only crafted in outstanding years, this has a great balance between tropical fruits and figs, toasty hints of brioche maturity and a lemon curd finish. The fine bubbles ensure an impressive length. For £62.00 from Drink Finder, I'd find it hard to pick between the two Thiénot's.

Charles Heidsieck 

Charles Heidsieck is generally considered the 'badass' Champagne house, thanks to Charles' do-what-I-want winemaking legacy.Being titled 'Sparkling Winemaker of the Year' at the International Wine Challenge fifteen times proves that they create great, hand-crafted wines, with heritage and high quality.

I personally found the Rosé Réserve NV more attractive than the current '06 vintage. Coral-like in appearance, it has a just-ripe strawberry scent that gradually leads to more of a buttery french toast aroma. Not too sweet and not too fruity, I'd say that this is a rosé that even rosé haters would like, and the silky-rich texture is divine. Get it for £45.00 from The Fine Wine Company.

If you're feeling flush, then you should try the Blanc des Milénaires 1995; a blend of Chardonnay from five crus - Cramant for complexity and ageability, Avize for verve and minerality, Oger for creaminess and weight, Mesnil-sur-Oger for balance and Vertus for floral freshness. With a slightly green tinged golden hue, its perfumed bouquet is instantly balanced with biscuity aromas; rich, buttery, vanilla spice, with sweet apricots and hazelnuts; it tastes as good as it sounds. It is super smooth, it looks swish, it's perfect for drinking now, and it has great potential for ageing; get it for £135.95 from The Whisky Exchange.

Moet Hennessy

The clear 18th-century style bottle of Ruinart Blanc de Blancs NV is a reminder that this is a Champagne that is meant to be drank now. The pale yellow nectar gives off gorgeous stone fruits and white flower aromas, which evolve into a fresh, lime-citrus and salty-sweet palate. This is a very user-friendly Blanc de Blancs; its seductive mousse will charm anyone at the dinner table this Christmas, and it's currently £47.98 from Majestic when you buy any six bottles of wine.

If you want to make a statement, these last two Champagnes are the way to do it. Firstly, Krug Grand Cuvée. Krug's uncompromising and single-minded determination to produce the best Champagne is legendary. It's continually classed as being one of the finest Champagnes in the world. A blend of more than 120 wines from at least 10 different harvests, has historically been sold as Krug Grande Cuvée, although since 2011, the label has featured an ID number, which can be entered into Krug’s website to tell consumers information about each bottle, including the vintages employed and the date when the wine was disgorged. This means that if you're a Krug snob, you can check the ID before you buy, just to check to see if it's they blend that you like!

Light toasted brioche, dried fruits and marzipan lead you in, with a peachy sherbet tang that's exceptionally fresh. It's rich and winey, as you'd expect for the price, but it retains some subtlety with fine and elegant bubbles. £126 in a mix six case from Majestic

The big boy; Dom Pérignon 1998 Plenitude P2 is probably only achievable if you've been given a huge bonus this year. This is the second release of the 1998 Plenitude (P2), being said to be in a new quality level where it will plateau for many years in terms of improvement; P3 is expected to be released 20-30 years after the vintage. Honeysuckle, lemony notes and smoky undertones are enticing, but it's the rich and creamy, chewy flapjack flavours that make it so exciting. It's edgy, embracing and has a persistent finish; I'm just not sure I'd want to pay £229 for it - from The Wine Press...

What are your favourite fizzes for the festive season? Let us know!

Friday, 27 November 2015

Get Your Apres-Ski Fix Without Leaving London: The Lodge Review



Missing out on ski season this year? Too long to wait for an annual ski trip? Can't actually ski but love the thought of boozy hot chocolate and fondue with your mates? Then The Lodge, the recently opened pop-up apres-ski venue in Clapham, is for you.



Situated above the Clapham North Pub, The Lodge is a restaurant serving up traditional Alpine fare. The menu comprises delicious meals and sharing platters, as well as its signature fondue with cheese from Neal's Yard (trust us, it's amazing).






But more than good food, The Lodge does drinks. Really, really good drinks. From Alpine beer to their signature hot cocktails, they've got this down. I visited with a group of friends, and we started the night trying Hot Toddies, classic cocktails and the signature Buttered Rum. 


The drinks menu features classics mixed with signature serves - and most can be ordered hot or cold; perfect for those chilly winter nights. There are warming, boozy, heady punches, creamy, rich hot chocolates, and festive mulled wine and cider.



Le Grande Bosses Butter Rum was a big hit - warming, rich, slightly spiced and topped with meringue, it hits the spot.



The Earl Grey Martini, developed by head bartender, Lachie, is strong, sharp and aromatic. We had it served hot, which really brought out the citrus flavour. Like many of the drinks at The Lodge, it can be ordered by the cup or by the teapot (or, in the case of the hot chocolate with orange liqueur, by the Thermos) - great for sharing, or if you're really thirsty.

Credit: @mandylaws


We ended our night with a Shotski - The Lodge's own ski with shots of Werther's Original Vodka.


I'm not one for toffee, or even vodka, but man this stuff's good... or maybe I'd had too much mulled wine by that point. Plus, ten points for novelty and a great photo opp.










Can't quite afford a trip to the slopes this year? Make your way to The Lodge instead - all the fun of apres-ski, without the expense (or the cold).


Follow The Lodge on Twitter or Instagram for pictures of hella good food and drink, or get in touch to book a table.

The top 20 brilliant and unique gifts for tea lovers

Let's get right down to business, as all good tea lovers do: we all know someone who is crazy about tea. And tea fans make the best friends - fact.

So grab yourself a cup of tea and read my guide to the best and most unique gifts for people who love tea:


1. "You are my cup of tea" Stamped tea spoon, £10 from PersonalisedSpoons on Etsy

So every day when they make a cuppa they can be reminded. <3


2. Pug in a mug tea infuser, £4.95 from Lakeland

For the combined tea and pug lover in your life?


3. Teacup temporary tattoo, £3.07 (plus £3.28 shipping) from Siideways in Canada, on Etsy

YES THAT'S RIGHT. A TEA TATTOO. I... I can't even cope with how perfect this is.


4. Tea club tea towel, £7.50 from Little Mashers on Not on the High Street

The first rule of tea club is... buy me all of the tea club tea cloths. Now, please.


5. Jones teapot tea clock, £12 from George at ASDA

It says 'drink tea and eat toast', and I will never argue with it.



6. Teacup necklace, £9 from Lovehearttrinkets on Etsy

HOW. ADORABLE.


7. Tea plant gift, £49 from The Present Tree on NOTHS

Grow your own tea leaves! Amazing!


8. Tea and cake gift set, £15 from The Contemporary Home

A mug for your tea nestled into a special plate for your cake. Now there's no excuse not to eat cake EVERY DAY.


9. Teapot mirror, £32 from OneTenZeroSeven on Etsy

Isn't it gorgeous? And the perfect size mirror to hang in the hallway by the front door to check your face on the way out every day.


10. 'Ring for tea' desk bell, £2.49 from FindMeAGift

I was given this for Christmas two years ago. It gets used SO SO MUCH. And somehow it always works? I've got my other half trained better than Pavlov's cat.



11. Book and tea lover print, £16 from Old English Company on NOTHS

This is true of so many of my friends I fear I might bankrupt myself buying them all one of these prints...



12. Teacup ceramic table lamp, £29.99 from Homebase

I. JUST. LOVE IT! You can put it in your cosiest reading corner.



13. Silver and peach flowery knitted tea cosy, £17.50 (+ £3.90 shipping from South Africa) from Bitty Creations on Etsy

I don't think I've ever seen a prettier tea cosy. I'd want to use my teapot every day if I had this.



14. Knitted snail tea cosy, £16.99 from RupertsHouse on Etsy

OR you could go FULL ON SILLY and get this hilarious snail cosy. The big eyes make me giggle every time I look at them.



15. Penguin tea-boy with timer, £18.23 from Amazon

Speaking of daft things, I just love this little guy. He's got a top hat! However, he actually does have a pretty great purpose too - the timer means you can brew the perfect cup of tea! Just let it steep for three minutes and PING! You're done.



16. Make Your Own Tea Blend gift box, £31 from Silver Lantern Tea on NOTHS

I can think of no greater power to give to a tea lover than letting them blend their OWN tea. This is worth every penny, I reckon.



17. SUCK UK My Cuppa Tea mug, £4.64 from Prezzybox

A colour-matching chart mug so you can brew the perfect strength tea with the right amount of milk every time! Shut up and take my money!



18. 'Busy drinking tea' tea towel, £12 from Busy Being on NOTHS

A perfect little celebration of tea in tea towel form.



19. Slow-brew sloth tea infuser, £10.99 from FindMeAGift

I can't decide if I like this one or the pug one (above) best. But sloths are so trendy right now, aren't they? Everyone loves sloths. And I bet sloths love tea.


20. Teapot necklace, £14 from OneTenZeroSeven on NOTHS

If the mirror above is just a bit too pricey for you, you can give your tea fanatic friend this gorgeous little wooden teapot necklace instead. And get one for me while you're at it.


Right, that's the end of my tea gift guide for you all. I'm off to put the kettle on... In the mean time, tell me your favourite or share your own brilliant tea presents in the comments!