Friday, 29 May 2015

Business of Booze: Drinks Stories with The London Sessions

This week in Business of Booze, we talk to Rebekkah Dooley, who’s been working on the drinks scene for 12 years now and is launching a new series of talks called The London Sessions.

1) So - tell us more about The London sessions - you were chatting over beer and tequila and... how was the idea shaped? What is your chief aim with these series of talks? 

The London Sessions came about during a conversation between myself and Tomas Estes, over dinner (and beer and tequila) at Cafe Pacifico. We were discussing how there are so many training sessions these days, but they all focus on technical knowledge, rather than people. 

Tomas is a wonderful, natural story teller, and so many bartenders are. We wanted to create a platform where people could share their stories in front of an engaged audience. I'm not a bartender, and even though I go to spirits trainings, I'm always more interested when someone starts talking about their first bar tending job, where they grew up, or what inspires them. So we wanted to share that.

2) You have fever tree lined up for the first talk - are there any other brands that you're really pushing to work with? 

Yes! I love working with Fever Tree because, aside from the fact that they make great products, it means I get to work with their brand manager Craig Harper - the sweetest, sweariest Scot you'll ever meet. 

Our first session is with Sean Muldoon & Jack McGarry from Dead Rabbit in New York. Sean & Jack are from Belfast, so for their session we approached Jameson, Guinness, and a range of Irish Whiskies. All the brands we're working with have relevance to the speakers, and they've been chosen by us specifically.

3) How do you feel the hospitality industry has changed over the last five/ten (you choose!) years? For better and for worse.

For better - The bar industry is growing massively at the moment. In previous years I don't think bar tending as a trade and a skill has received the respect it deserves, but it's great to see that changing with the rise of cocktails in newspapers, magazines, and on TV - people are recognising more and more that making cocktails is an art form in the same way that making food is. 

I think we'll soon see a rise in the number of 'Celebrity Bartenders' as we did with chefs 5 years back. Also, people are way more interested in what they're drinking at the moment, which makes our job - selling booze and cocktails, a lot more interesting. 

If I were to predict where it's going next, I would say look at the organic food market and the restaurant industry. Our boom will be the same as theirs. And for worse - The down side of that, is that with bartenders like Alex Kratena and Erik Lorincz becoming more widely known, I think more people are looking up to them and thinking 'I wanna do that!' but they're not putting in the leg work. 

I don't think people realise Erik came to London speaking very little English and that he worked as a glass collector - those are the stories we'll be telling in The London Sessions. You gotta do the hard work. 

So I think people are getting egos prematurely, and the ironic thing is that the people who could legitimately be entitled to have egos, people like Erik or Alex, are actually the kindest and most polite. So yeah - less egos, please.

4) And what do you think needs a refocus? 

That our industry is about people. Peter Dorelli is a great one to speak to about this, which is why we got him involved with The London Sessions. 

At the end of the day we're here to give the customer what they want, and 9 times out of 10, the customer really couldn't care less where you got your bitters came from, just make them a delicious drink and be nice whilst you're doing it. I think that's where the focus should be.

5) Who are you admiring in the world of bartending (personalities and/or establishments)?

Gareth Evans, one of The London Sessions co-founders. For me, Gareth has created and pioneered a style of cocktails which is all about being fun and accessible, but he's done it without compromising the quality of his drinks. 

Every time I see one of his serves I'm like 'What the hell is that?' and 'I want one' at the same time. He's a talented, driven individual, plus he has a great team in Kyle Wilkinson & Liam Webster. I think they're all going to go really far. 

Also Sean Muldoon & Jack McGarry at Dead Rabbit. It's my favourite bar in the world, and Sean is one of the people who inspired The London Sessions. He's a great story teller, and their determination to be the best is infectious, yet they remain humble and always eager to learn, which is the most important thing.

6) You designed the menus for Callooh Callay that helped them win their award, and has set the precedent for amazing creativity in these kind of bars. How has theatre/creativity changed over the years of your working in bars? 

The bar (excuse the pun) has been raised so much. Callooh Callay started making really cool menus when they opened 6 years ago. They were kind of the first. I think menus used to be an after thought for most venues but now people have realised their full potential, which means there's so much more competition. 

I love making menus because it's kind of like a puzzle - you need a cool idea but then you need to make sure it works logistically, that it's cost effective, marketable, it'll boost sales, photograph well. 

There are so many different elements and without all of them - the menu isn't going to be the best. My favourite menus are the Dead Rabbit menus, but then you go somewhere like Booker & Dax in New York where the menu is so simple, and yet I still have it stuck up on my bedroom wall. I actually do.

7) Apart from London, where do you rate in the world with an amazing bar scene at the moment? 

It has to be New York, but I still (sorry New York) think we're miles ahead of them.

8) And what do you think we have in London that makes us so special? 

I don't know. If we could bottle it and sell it, it wouldn't be so special, would it? Take a black cab to The Savoy, have one of the men with the big hats open your car door and go to The American Bar. That's what makes London Special, it's magical.

This was a guest post by Becky from Social and Cocktail.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Wine Travels: Cape Adventure Part 2 - Warwick and Kanonkop

If you missed Part 1 it can be read here...

Leaving Villiera it was just a quick fifteen minute drive to our next port of call at Warwick Estate.


Warwick is a wonderful estate with the classic white Dutch style architecture that is a prominent feature in South African wine country. Not only is it beautiful, but it is a winery that has had substantial female influence, the owner, Norma Ratcliffe was one of the first women to make wine in South Africa and so far is the only female chairperson of the Cape Winemakers Guild.

Although Norma has retired now there is still a strong female presence in the winery and the heritage and influence is reflected in the wine's labels and names.

Here, the tour started with a glass of chardonnay and a look round the winery itself, where fermentation was well under way with the harvest having not long ended.

Tasting in the Warwick barrel room
There was plenty of activity with workers cleaning one of the vats, hosing floors and much more that gave a fascinating look behind the scenes and seeing some of the day to day work in a winery as well as some different techniques at the oenologist’s disposal on show with oak in its various forms, different varieties of vat and so much else.

One interesting point was that their new Cap Classique was still hand riddled due to the production not yet being large enough to warrant gyropallets (riddling is the process of moving dead yeast particles into the neck of  the bottle for removal during the production of sparkling wine).

Warwick offer gourmet picnics in their picturesque grounds
We continued the tasting outside with the majority based around the wide range of reds (although they do produce whites, rose and recently introduced a Cap Classique) with the standout wines for me being The Blue Lady and Trilogy.

The Blue Lady is a single vineyard cabernet sauvignon that has had 28 months in oak (60% new oak) and although very young (being the 2012 vintage), it was showing terrific potential with black fruit, cedar, wonderful spice coupled with a long finish, great structure and ripe, but soft tannins.

Trilogy is a Bordeaux blend of cabernet sauvignon (49%) cabernet franc (34%) and merlot (17%) that like The Blue Lady has seen an extended period in oak (26 months) with 60% being first fill. This was quite different having a blend of both red and black fruit notes mixed with mocha and coffee, leather and cedar.

I have picked these two out as my absolute favourites, however, there were many other terrific wines that we tried such as their Old Bush Pinotage, the First Lady Cabernet, Three Cape Ladies, Pink Lady and we didn't get to sample any of the Professor Black's range as that sells out almost instantly.

These outstanding wines coupled with fantastic hospitality all made for a very memorable visit, especially when capped off with one of the winery’s gourmet picnics enjoyed out in the mid-afternoon sun.

Blue Lady is available from for £19.95 and Trilogy can be bought at Hennings Wine Merchants for £17.65


Finally and with very little time as the afternoon was getting old, we made a flying visit to Kanonkop which conveniently is practically opposite Warwick. Having jumped out of the car and successfully weaved in-between all the dogs happily greeting visitors we entered the tasting room.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have much time to linger and take in all the wines and artefacts dotted around the tasting room as we had to get to a braai (barbeque) in the evening and as such only tried a few of the wines, The Estate Cabernet, Estate Pinotage and Paul Sauer. All were truly great wines, full bodied, round, with concentrated flavours and easy to drink relatively young, but with undeniable ageability.

Pinotage is described as a marmite with it really dividing opinion. Personally, I am a lover of this much maligned grape variety which for me often comes across as a really gamey and rustic pinot noir, but with more body and intensity.

Above the door of the tasting room at Kanonkop there is the quote that: "Pinotage is the juice extracted from women's tongues and lions' hearts. After having a sufficient quantity one can talk forever and fight the devil." As not the most the most persistent raconteur nor battler of Beelzebub this makes the wines even more appealing.

The wines of Kanonkop are amongst the best in Stellenbosch, if not South Africa generally, and are more readily available in the UK than those of Warwick or Villiera. They are on the more expensive end of the scale for South African wines, however, once you consider their place in terms of quality they are a real bargain and provide a lot more than their counterparts from Europe in the same price bracket.

Paul Sauer can be purchased at Majestic for £30 (£25 per bottle if you buy two), the Estate Cabernet is available at The Wine Society for £22 (or for £23.99)  and the Estate Pinotage can be bought at Majestic for £27.50 (£22.50 pb when you buy 2). However, Kanonkop's entry level pinotage Kadette is very reliable and a good introduction to the grape variety whilst being competitively priced and The Wine Society's Exhibition Pinotage from Kanonkop is £10.50 and terrific.

All in all the day was truly fantastic and very memorable to all of us. I cannot commend enough the wineries in their hospitality and confirm that all welcome the public making them terrific to visit if
you ever find yourself around the cape and with the thirst for wines at the forefront of your mind.

As an added bonus, Villiera offer 2-hour safaris in the wildlife reserve and at Warwick there are grape safaris where visitors are driven up into the vineyards to take in the various plots of grapes, taste them and get a feel of the different characters whilst they are compared to the 5 different large game in South Africa (lions, elephants, Cape buffalo, leopard and rhino).

An amazing experience that won’t soon be bested.

Sipsmith Gin + Jude's Ice Cream = GIN AND TONIC ICE CREAM


If I was asked to name the things that encapsulate summer for me, then gin and tonics and ice cream would be right up there at the top of the list (alongside English cricketing capitulations and trying valiantly to BBQ in between rain showers). 

You can imagine then how pleased I was to be invited to an evening where these two wonderful summer treats were being combined by two of my very favourite brands; Sipsmith whose fantastic distillery in Chiswick I visited only a couple of weeks earlier, and Jude's whose salted caramel ice cream I encountered recently and absolutely loved.

That's right - they've combined to create a gin and tonic ice cream!

But there was more to this evening (at Le Meridien hotel off Piccadilly Circus) than that.

First, we were greeted with a Sipsmith and Jude's Gin Float, which was an idea of absolute genius.

It sees a scoop of Jude's Very Vanilla Ice-Cream sat in a coupe glass. To this 20ml of Sipsmith London Dry Gin was added and then it was topped with some chilled tonic water (this has to be poured over very slowly to avoid the drink fizzing over).

The result is a rather decadent drink where the tartness of the gin contrasts nicely with the creamy vanilla - the result is something akin to a summer snowball. Excellent.

Classy Summer Gin Cocktails

Following on from this we tried two cocktails that those clever folk at Sipsmith had come up with for this event. 

Firstly we had one of their Summer Cups: this uses their gin called Summer Cup which is their London Dry Gin flavoured with Earl Grey, Bergamot and Lemon Verbena. They served this with lemonade and garnished it with cucumber and strawberries. This was a delightful drink that shared a lot of similarities with Pimm's except for the fact that it felt a lot more grown-up as it was no way near as sweet.

Having tried a Pimm's subsequently it has cemented my view that the Sipsmith Summer Cup should be the refreshing afternoon long drink for the summer - I seriously recommend trying this out. You can buy Sipsmith Summer Cup from Ocado for £19.99 (500ml bottle). 

Next up we tried a Sipsmith Sloe Gin and Bitter Lemon. I became a fan of Sipsmith Sloe Gin when I visited their Distillery but now I am even more of a fan - the sour nature of the bitter lemon was the perfect foil for the plummy, jammy luxury of the sloe gin.

Paired together it made for a wonderfully balanced and refined long drink. I may have drunk more than a couple of these since the event. Yum. You can buy Sipsmith Sloe Gin from Ocado for £24 (500ml bottle).

You scream, I scream, we all scream for Ice Cream...

Where could we go after the heights of these gorgeous drinks? Well, how about a gin and tonic flavoured ice cream?!

Those magicians at Jude's sought to create an ice cream that featured just enough of a hint of gin and tonic to give that citrusy, junipery dry gin flavour whilst maintaining the decadence of their vanilla ice cream.

Boy did they manage it. This was simply delicious, a proper grown-up ice cream that will bring a smile to any gin and tonic lover's face.

You can buy Jude's gin & tonic ice cream from Ocado for 2 for £4.50 until 21st July 2015!

For now, you can make the gin float I had at the start of the night!

Well, there you have it. Summer is about to hit. I suggest that you stock up on some gin and some ice cream so that you're prepared to make the most of it!


Monday, 25 May 2015

Rockin' Rum Ribs for National BBQ Week

Barbecues and Bank Holidays go hand in hand... Lovely. Add in booze and the fact it's National BBQ Week? Perfect!

To kick things off I've got a meatilicious recipe for you, one which includes two of the best barbecue staples; ribs and rum! Sticky, spicy and smoky, what more could you ask for?

These Rockin' Rum Ribs are a nod to that King of The Grill, DJ BBQ, Christian Stevenson's recipe, in which he marinates the meat in a flavour-packed paste, and then glazes it with a rum fuelled sauce towards the end of cooking. He has a pretty special way of BBQing - low and slow - so that the meat literally falls off the bone; however, if you live in a flat and don't have the privilege of a garden or barbecue like me, then you can just do this in an oven. (Not quite the same, but it'll do!)

Instead of going down the Asian spice route, I've ventured to the Middle East for my marinade, using fiery harissa paste, deep treacle like date syrup, and earthy smoked paprika. In making sure that the membrane is taken off the underside of the ribs (baby back pork ribs) before you smother them in the marinade, and then leaving them for a minimum of 8 hours, you'll definitely get the best flavours permeating each and every rib.

As for the rum BBQ glaze, dark rum is where it's at. Simply choose whatever one you have going spare, but obviously not your finest, most expensive bottle! I went for the Mount Gay Eclipse that Hugo wrote about back in 2013; it had just the right amount of vanilla spice sweetness to stand up to all the other components of the sauce. It worked a charm.

BBQ Rum Ribs (for 2 greedy people) 


  • 500-750g baby back pork ribs
For the paste:

  • 2 tbsp date syrup
  • 1/2 tbsp harissa paste
  • 1/2 tbsp worcestershire sauce 
  • 1/2 tsp dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tbsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • a grating of nutmeg
For the rum BBQ sauce:
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 50 ml tomato ketchup
  • 45 ml dark rum
  • 1 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 1/2 tbsp worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes
  • 25g dark muscovado sugar


1. Make the paste by combining all the ingredients in a bowl with some salt and pepper. Place the ribs in a shallow dish, and rub the paste all over. Cover with cling film and leave to marinate in the fridge for at least 8 hours, but preferably overnight.

2. When you’re ready to cook, remove the ribs from the fridge and allow to come back up to room temperature. Meanwhile, set up your barbecue DJ BBQ style with a ‘half and half technique’ (so half the base is covered in charcoal and the other side is empty) – you want a medium indirect heat.

Place a drip tray inside the barbecue on the indirect side. Cover with the lid and let it heat up like an outdoor oven – you want a temperature of around 180°C.

3. Get yourself a length of tin foil, stack the ribs in the centre and wrap them up tightly, ensuring there are no open gaps. Place the foil parcel over indirect heat on the barbecue, cover with the lid and cook for around 2 hours, or until the meat is tender and starts to fall away from the bone, remembering to replenish with hot coals every 45 minutes or so.

*If you’re not BBQ-ing, set your oven to 180°C and simply place the foil parcel on a tray, and cook in the oven for the same amount of time.

4. To make the rum BBQ sauce, finely grate the garlic into a small pan, add the rest of the ingredients and 20ml of water. Simmer over a medium heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it’s thick and glossy. Season with salt and pepper then set aside.

5. After the 2 hours, remove the ribs from the foil and brush all over with half of the sauce and any cooking juices. Return to the indirect heat - or oven - for another 30 minutes, with the lid on, basting with the rest of the sauce every 10 minutes or so.

6. Leave to rest on a board for 5 minutes before carving. Then get stuck in and sticky with these Rockin’ Rum Ribs! 

If the sauce is not all over your face when you’re done, then you’ve been doing it ALL wrong.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Business of Booze: Creating Burleighs Gin

In this week’s Business of Booze we talk to Jamie Baxter, creator of Burleighs Gin – a London Dry Gin that was launched last year and is infused with 11 of the world’s finest botanicals including silver birch, dandelion, burdock, elderberry and iris.

What was the catalyst for creating your own gin? Was it a case of a gap in the market, or you wanting something that wasn't available, or a general desire to distill your own spirit?

It was a bit of all of those really. Firstly I had a chance to build a new distillery together with my partners. We are all equal shareholders and this appealed. Secondly, I was given free range to create the gin that I wanted and we launched Burleighs Gin in July last year.

In terms of the inspiration, I tend to prefer a traditional style of London Dry Gin, although that's not to say that I don't love some of the more unusual products that there are out there too. I just wanted to make a gin with a flavour profile tailored to the drinks that I like.

How long until you got a batch you were 100% pleased with?

It took a good week, but an awful lot of thinking beforehand.

How about the branding - how long did that take? What were your influences?

I left the branding to my partners. My only input to the design was that it had to say "Gin" in big letters as my eyesight is awful. That said, we all had to agree the final design and it is something of which we are very proud. 

It took a long time, but there is a long lead time on stills at the moment and so we were able to try lots of different ideas. I'm lucky to be working with some creative people.

Who do you admire in the spirit world?

There are too many to mention them all. In the distilling world, it probably won't surprise you that I favour a lot of craft distillers, but there are plenty of big brands that I admire too. Nobody can tell me that Tom Nichol, Desmond Payne or Joanne Moore are not craftsmen. I've been lucky enough to meet many of my drinks heroes and without exception they have been free with advice and help. 

In America I admire greatly what Chris Dowe (Cold River), Paul Hletko (Few), Todd Leopold (Leopold Brothers), Lance Winters (St George's), Davorin Kuchan (Old World), Allen Katz (New York Distilling) and Ted Breaux (Jade) are doing. 

Here in the UK I won't single out any names as many of them are friends of mine and big headed enough already, but I genuinely admire anyone who has the gumption to get up and make their dream a reality by building their own distillery and making their own product. This is also true outside the drinks world. I spent the first part of my working life in the food industry, particularly breakfast cereals.

My two favourite evenings so far in 2015 have both been in Edinburgh though, at Bramble and The Bon Vivant. London, you better pull your socks up.

What's the best piece of advice you were given?

Listen politely and then do your own thing.

What advice would you give to people setting up their own business in the spirits world?

Learn about it. Think about it hard. Then trust your instincts.

What's been your favourite part of the journey so far?

There have been two. Firstly discovering what a great ingredient burdock root is, and secondly, walking into a cocktail bar in London and realising that a whole shelf on the back bar contained only products that I have developed or been involved with. I tried to drink my way along that shelf, but there were simply too many!

What are your plans for 2015/16?

We launched Burleighs Gin last year. This year is all about growth. We are also building a few more distilleries for other people this year. It's just great fun!

We'll drink to that!

This was a guest post by Becky from Social and Cocktail.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Out of Bordeaux Dinner @ The Meat Co #outofbdx

They say that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery.

New World vs Old World (?)

As winemakers in the New World have looked to make their mark, they seem to have been faced with a choice: take traditional and time-honoured techniques and styles and replicate them in a new environment, or break with the shackles of the tradition and trail-blaze.

Given the influence and power that Old World wines have within the consumer market it is not surprising that many of the New World winemakers appear to choose the former as opposed to the latter. 

In reality, however, I think it is a little more complicated than this. What we see is exciting, dynamic young winemakers who travel from the New World to the Old, where they eagerly learn from the greats with their centuries of history, customs and inherited knowledge.

They then take this learning back to their home countries where they develop this understanding based on their local conditions and situations. Importantly, however, they are free from the laws and regulations of the Old World, allowing them to innovate, experiment and develop an identity of their own. 

This was the theme of a dinner that I attended this week as part of London Wine Week. The event was hosted by Connoisseur Estates at The Meat Co., who are a wine importer and wholesaler that specialises in both the Old World and the New.

They wanted to feature two wine makers from different continents who both shared one trait - making wines that appeared reminiscent of Bordeaux.

The first producer was Mauricio Vegetti from Gauchezco in Mendoza, Argentina, and the second was Philip Constandius of Oldenburg Wines in Stellenbosch, South Africa.

Both producers were over in the UK promoting their vineyards as part of London Wine Week and I must say that it was a real honour to meet them.

I earnestly encourage anyone who has an interest in wine to spend some time visiting vineyards and meeting winemakers - to see what they do and to hear them talk about their wines is to understand what a passion they have and how much pride they have in their wines.

The Dinner (and wines!)

We started the dinner with a glass of 2014 Gauchezco Torrontés (£30.41 per 3 bottles on Amazon*) which had a beautiful floral note on the nose, but was nice and steely on the palate. I've had some rather mediocre Torrontés in my time, this was certainly not one of them.

With our starters (a platter containing Aubergine Tart, Beef Cigars, Calamari and Spicy Chicken Wings) we tried a wine from each of the vineyards.

Firstly the 2012 Oldenburg Rhodium (£37 for the 2010 at SA Wines Online), a blend with 53% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Franc and 7% Malbec. The very fact that they were blending demonstrates the Bordeaux influence, but also has the benefit of allowing a Merlot-dominant wine to be sold without telling people that they're drinking Merlot (thanks, Miles... *Sideways reference*).

This was the stand out wine of the evening for me: aromas of luscious red fruit (strawberries and cherries), with a hint of spice but coupled with great balance and depth. This was a big wine, with real poise and grace; 8.5/10 

Alongside this we tried the 2013 Gauchezco Petit Verdot. A typical Bordeaux grape, but somewhat  more unusual to see it in its own right as opposed to being blended with other grape varieties. This was more subtle on the nose with a whiff of blackcurrants and a wisp of smoke and cloves.

On the mouth it was rather tannic and acidic -  I think in a couple of years time this will have settled down to be something rather majestic. 8.0/10.0

Our main course was a splendidly cooked ribeye steak - ideal given the proliferation of red wines at this tasting!

I started with the 2009 Gauchezco Oro Malbec (£25.95 from Charlie The Wine), this was all fruit on the nose with notes of damson and plums. On tasting it was very similar, lots of fruit up front, but it then lacked a bit of structure and complexity for me. A solid, if somewhat unspectacular, wine. 6.5/10.0

The second wine with our main was the 2010 Oldenburg Cabernet Sauvignon (£21.50 from Berry Brothers). This was a big and bold wine with fruity notes of black cherries and blackcurrant, with a touch of menthol to it. On the palate it had high levels of acidity leading to fruity flavours of redcurrants and red cherries, with some interesting savoury secondary notes of red pepper. 7.0/10.0

Instead of dessert we moved onto a rather delightful cheeseboard with Comte, mature cheddar and a blue.

I started on the 2011 Gauchezco Cabernet Franc/Malbec blend (£17.99 from Charlie The Wine). Argentina has had huge success with taking an unloved French grape in Malbec and elevating it to international acclaim - and those in the know think that they could have even more success with Cabernet Franc.

This was a thoroughly pleasant wine with fresh, juicy blackcurrant aromas and a slight whiff of vanilla. I liked this wine a great deal, but I would dearly love to see Gauchezco do an 100% Cab. Franc - I think it would be wonderful. 7.5/10.0

Given the above you can imagine how pleased I was when I saw the 2011 Oldenburg Cabernet Franc (£21.50, Berry Bros) up next. This was slightly vegetal on the nose with red peppers as well as black pepper and tobacco notes.

On the mouth it was elegance and finesse personified with red fruits (cranberry and red currants). A great wine to end a great evening. 8.5/10.0

This really was a wonderful experience and I would like to thank the people at Connoisseur Estates for putting on such a delightful evening. I would also like to thank Philip and Mauricio for taking time out of their busy schedules to present these wines and to answer all of our questions - they were both fantastic ambassadors for their wineries and their countries.

You can also find your nearest stockist of the wines listed above on the Connoisseur Estates website.      

Disclaimer: I was invited to this event as a guest of Connoisseur Estates and did not pay for the wines or the food. The opinions contained within this article are a true reflection of my experiences.

*Any links marked with an asterisk are what we call 'affiliate links'. They don't bite. It just means that - if you buy from them - we might earn a very small commission to help keep Vinspire HQ in biscuits. We NEVER link to any website or product we wouldn't 100% genuinely recommend - and that will always be the case.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Celebrate English Wine: English Wine Producers Tasting 2015

Roll up! Roll up! English Wine Week is coming! From 23rd - 31st May… That's NEXT WEEK.

In my excitement, I ventured to London last week to attend the English Wine Producers Trade & Press Tasting 2015, with the aim to scout out some of the latest - and most delicious - English wines on the market. It was a pretty big affair held at One Great George Street, right next door to Big Bloody Ben, with over 100 wines to try! Yep. Over 100 wines.

I’d not even heard of half of the vineyards that were exhibiting, probably due to the slim pickings of English wines in our supermarkets, and I was genuinely surprised by just how many wines our little country produces (and this was merely a selection!). It’s flippin’ awesome! But don’t worry, I’m not going to make this a super patriotic blog post, let’s get down to the wine chats.

Photo Credit: Nyetimber
A tasting table took centre stage, running the entire length of the room, with wine producer stands lined up around the edges. As you could probably guess, English Sparkling Wine took up a high proportion of the central table, with a number of whites, some rosés, and a handful of reds and late harvest wines.

English Sparkling Wine is where we nail it; in the last 16 years ESWs have won 8 trophies for Best International Sparkling Wine and 6 trophies for Best Sparkling Rosé in global competitions, something no other country has achieved! The UK vineyard area has grown enormously over the years, and the majority of which is mostly planted for the production of the fizzy stuff (Chardonnay and Pinot Noir being the most popular).

We’ve featured a number ESWs on Vinspire, and you can generally find a selection next to the Champers on the high street shelves (I’m a diehard Nyetimber obsessive), but I was keen to see what else was on offer, and as it turned out, quite a lot! I had a long list of non Champagne varieties/blends, Blanc de Blancs, traditional Cuvées, Blanc de Noirs, Sparkling Rosés, Rosé de Noirs and Demi-Secs to work through. A few personal stand outs were as follows:

Bluebell Hindleap Blanc de Blancs 2010

*IWC15 GOLD + SWA15 SILVER* Made from 100% Chardonnay grapes grown in Bluebell vineyards, this wine seems to be winning a number of awards within the industry. A gorgeous honeyed peach melba aroma prevails, with lemony citrus notes to balance it out. Being aged on the lees for 30 months has resulted in a more complex, sophisticated and ‘Champagne’ style wine. It has a super soft mousse, full of juicy apples and pears, and a long tongue tingling finish.

Bluebell Hindleap Rosé 2010

*IWC15 SILVER + SWA15 GOLD* With roughly two-thirds Pinot Noir to one-third Pinot Meunier, this has lovely fresh flavours of summer pudding. Pure fruitiness of cranberries and strawberries, are intertwined with rose petals and orange zest. There's deliberately a touch more residual sugar than previous vintages, giving the wine a broader palate that has crisp acidity as well as a nice hint of creaminess.

Hattingley Valley Classic Cuvée 2010

*IWC15 GOLD* This pale gold beauty highlights Hattingley Valley's outstanding craftsmanship. 90% Chardonnay, 5% Pinot Noir and 5% Pinot Meunier, the Classic Cuvée offers a delicate floral nose, with sweet red berries and green apples. It's toasty rounded palate, with a gentle oak flavour adds interesting complexity, and the brisk acidity leaves you craving more.

Hattingley Valley Kings Cuvée 2011

*IWC15 COMMENDED* A very limited release, the Kings Cuvée is a blend of the three classic varieties - 33% Chardonnay, 33% Pinot Noir and 33% Pinot Meunier. Pale gold with aromas of red berries, the palate is fruity with plums and apples, a subtle hint of freshly baked brioche, and balanced with crispness and a fine mousse. It's certainly a stunner, but at £65 I wonder if it's worth it?

Wiston Estate Cuvée Brut 2010

*IWC15 SILVER* Wiston wines not only look sexy, but taste bloody good too. Situated on the South facing chalk slopes of the South Downs, West Sussex, their Cuvée Brut is a blend of 33% Chardonnay, 45% Pinot Noir and 22% Pinot Meunier. Given a very low dosage (the sugar solution added at the end of the production process), fruit shines through, and there's a wonderful sharp sherbet quality to it.

Wiston Estate Rosé 2011

*IWC15 GOLD* Made up of 57% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Meunier, this wine has been barrel fermented with minimal intervention. It's an attractive style, plump and juicy strawberries balanced by the crisp profile of rhubarb-like Chardonnay, and notes of vanilla come through too. Incredibly drinkable, this is the epitome of English summer.

Chapel Down Blanc de Noirs 2009

*IWC15 SILVER* A rich sparkling wine, made from the white juice of black grapes, this is ever to slightly pink tinged. This Blanc de Noirs - with 97% Pinot Noir and 3% Pinot Meunier - is full of cherries and berries on the nose. Faint brioche notes help it's silky mouth filling palate, and very fine floral bubbles slip down and disappear unnoticed. An opulent offering from Chapel Down!

Nyetimber Demi-Sec NV

English wine heavyweights, Nyetimber, were to first to create an English Demi-Sec made from 100% Chardonnay grown in Southern England. It has a high dosage of 44 grams per litre residual sugar, making it ideal for when a sweeter wine is required, i.e. with dessert, or even better, afternoon tea! Wonderful honey and lemon curd flavours are at the forefront, balanced by a zingy citrus acidity that cleanses the palate and showcases this ultra-refreshing wine.

Time seemed to run away with me, meaning I didn’t get to try many still wines, but that’s not to say they should be overlooked. Still wine production continues to thrive, with Bacchus being the most popular aromatic grape variety in the UK. Of the few I tried, some note-worthy ones were:

Litmus White Pinot 2012

Litmus White Pinot, made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes grown in Surrey, is a seductively structured wine. Rich with ripe roasted peaches, honey, and vanilla, a touch of oak adds a toasty texture with elements of spice. It's soft and creamy, but defined tannins give it a fabulously long finish.

Chapel Down Kit’s Coty Estate Chardonnay 2012

*IWC15 SILVER + SWA15 GOLD* Named after a nearby neolithic monument, Kit's Coty is the first single-vineyard release from Chapel Down, and it's an oaky little number. Nearly all barrel-fermented, sweet stone fruits have been given a smoky edge, with buttery notes. There's a savoury-green tang, and a citrus flourish on the finish, which would make it a great wine to have with food.

Astley Veritas 2011

*IWC15 COMMENDED* Veritas is a single varietal Worcestershire wine, made from the Kerner grape, a Riesling cross rarely found in England. An off dry style, it's aromatic with rich fruit flavours, smoke and spice. Lime and green apple acidity ensures a lasting finish, and an overall exciting wine.

Brightwell Pinot Noir 2012

Our British climate doesn't often go hand in hand with red wine making, but this one from Brightwell was lovely. Big cherry and currant flavours are given a bit of spice thanks to being matured in oak. It's wonderfully rounded with subtle tannins and a long, dry finish. Great on it's own, but would be ideal with meats and cheese.

Denbies Noble Harvest 2014

*IWC15 COMMENDED* A dessert wine with a difference; made from the nectar like juice pressed from Ortega grapes that are infected with noble rot (Botrytis), this is a rare occurrence, and the prize of a great season! Denbies have only ever produced three vintages of Noble Harvest since the vineyard was planted in 1986, so this is pretty special. Seamless honeyed fruit, it's sweet and juicy, but a lemony backbone stops it being too sickly.

You can’t deny it; English Wines are on the rise. Slowly but surely, we seem to be moving out of the “this is an English wine” quirky oddity kind of mind set, and instead are pointing out that these are wines worth talking about. With an exceptional record-breaking harvest in 2014, due to the long warm spring and summer months, next year is set to be bigger and better. I’ll raise a glass to that; personally, I can’t wait!

Click the links for full listings of this years English Wine winners at the International Wine Challenge and Sommelier Wine Awards.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Gifts for Cocktail Lovers: Get Your Own Tailor-Made Cocktail Created!

We've featured cocktails and amazing hand-painted glassware from Toasted Glass more times than perhaps any other brand or company! Owner Monique never fails to delight us - and, apparently, you guys too.

Well now she's upped her game yet again: she's started creating bespoke cocktails as gifts!

Imagine it: your cocktail-mad girlfriend/pal/relative already has all the glassware, ingredients and gadgets they need, so for their next birthday/Christmas/Valentine's Day present you get them their very own, unique cocktail!

It's tailored to their every wish: Monique has created a detailed (but simple to fill out) survey for you to complete asking all sorts of questions about the recipient's personality, lifestyle, drinking habits and taste preferences.

You don't then just get a recipe sent to you - oh, no.

As well as the recipe and full instructions, Monique sends a handwritten letter explaining how she came up with the cocktail for the intended recipient, PLUS she sends a gorgeous miniature bottle, hand-painted with a design that reflects your recipient's personality, containing a sample of the cocktail.
(No perishable ingredients, though, so you'll need to add things like fruit juice once it arrives.)

All of this costs just £60! For a once-in-a-lifetime, full unique and incredibly special gift, I think that's a steal. She's done it again, that Monique!

Now who's going to buy me one? Seriously, though, if you're interested, order your own bespoke cocktail here.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Monday Morning Mugs: Oakdene Designs

Ah, Monday, you bitch.

If you're relishing your first cups of tea or coffee, and looking grimly to another 5 days before weekend/wine, then my Monday Morning Mugs series is definitely for you!

I always just try to find some silly, funny or heartwarming mugs for us to giggle at - I've bought quite a few of them now and drinking from them never fails to cheer me up. :-)

This week, I've found the wonderful Oakdene Designs on Not on the High Street.

It's a team of over 20 young designers in Surrey, and they've won lots of awards already, which isn't surprising when you have a look at the huge range of wonderful, unique designs in their shop (there's over 600!)

Here are my picks of their mug designs:

Hot damn, this is my jam! Oh, this is wonderful. The perfect breakfast mug. It's £11.50.

"You had me at woof." The perfect dog lover's mug - I can think of quite a few people who would sip out of this with pride. It's £11.50 too.

On a similar vein, this "Pugs and kisses" mug (£11.50) would have quite a few of my pug-mad friends squealing with joy.

More of a cat lover? This "And I'm feline good" cat mug (£11.50) was the first one to catch my eye. The only downside (?) is that you'll have the epic Nina Simone big-band DUN, DUN DUN, DUN DUNNNN, etc going through your head for hours afterwards.

Or you could settle for this sassy AND cat-loving "Check meowt" mug (£11.50). I just love the cat's cheeky little face! Ahem, revealing my inner cat lady there...

Lastly, if you're feeling super hawt and full of swag then the 'I woke up like this' mug will be a pretty fine way of telling the world how mighty you are. It's £11.50.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

London Wine Week 2015: Our pick of the best events

That's right - London Wine Week is back for 2015!

We really enjoyed the 2014 London Wine Week, so I'm thrilled to learn it's back and bigger than ever, with a huuuuuge range of wonderful events, masterclasses, pop-up tastings and much more.

First things first: it takes place from 18th to 24th May at various locations throughout the capital. You can buy a wristband for £10 which gives you access to lots of deals, discounts and £5 wine flights, all of which can be found at over 100 venues.

There's going to be lots of wine tours and offers to take advantage of, but what I'm really excited about is the huge range of events taking place throughout the week.

Here's my top 7 picks (one for each day!):

Under the Table soiree, The Table restaurant, Southwark Street. Tickets £50.

A comedy wine tasting! You'll get wine, sharing platters and evening entertainment coming from the brilliant comedian Jarred Christmas and wine expert Giles Smith-Walker. It sounds like a unique night of fun, with some learning thrown in too.

If you don't fancy that... maybe you'd prefer the breathtaking Rothschild tasting and dinner right up at level 31 of the Shard. Tickets are £125.

The Lawn Club by Celebrity Cruises, with Oz Clarke. Tickets £15

A laid-back, sophisticated wine tasting with a picnic vibe on . Chill out on a picnic rug with your significant other, sipping wine whilst being guided through the wines by the legendary, entertaining Oz Clarke. Then you can stick around for some lawn games.

Nyetimber Vertical Tasting with Jane Parkinson, Devonshire Square. Tickets £20

We've made no secret of our love for English sparkler Nyetimber, and this is the perfect fangirl tasting for me as I also love Jane Parkinson's wine writing. She's going to talk everyone through several vintages of Nyetimber - amazing!

If you don't fancy that... there's an epic five-course Wild Seafood Dinner at The Jugged Hare for £65.

A Regal Rogue Journey of Jago's Gastronomic Indulgence, Jago Restaurant. Tickets £52

It's not often you get a dinner with vermouth pairings! Regal Rogue vermouth is taking you through four of their range and matching each one with some delectable dinner treats. A Mediterranean feast, and a chance to really dress up.

If you don't fancy that... try the intriguing wine tasting at the original Masonic Temple at the Andaz Liverpool Street hotel.

Wine Tasting Games with Berry Bros. Tickets £49

An evening tasting 3 different 3-wine flights from Bordeaux, Burgundy and Rioja sounds fun enough, but Berry Bros are using games to help teach you about wine tasting. This looks like it's going to be a wonderful, unique evening.

If you don't fancy that... head over to the free 'Wine Stories' soiree at Waterstones on Oxford Street.

Day Tour of 3 of West Sussex's Finest Vineyards, starting at Pulborough Station. Tickets £99.

A wonderful day exploring what English vineyards and wineries have to offer, plus a lovely lunch. A bargain for the price!

If you don't fancy that... get geeky with the Honest Grapes Taste Lab experience. An informal way to test your palate and work out which kinds of wines you really love.

'Big Bottles Taste Better' London Wine Week closing party, at Mission. Tickets £25.

A wonderful tasting of unique and rare wines, all from Magnum, a barbecue and some DJs. Perfect, chilled way to end the week.

Are you going to LWW? Let us know how you get on and which events and pop-ups you're planning to attend!

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

What's Your Favourite Rum?

So it's been a while since we've asked your opinion - but we loved hearing all about your favourite gins, whiskies and vodkas. It's all helping us build up the information we need to launch a little Vinspire Drinks Awards later this year.

Then our editor (ahem, me) moved house and got a bit disorganised, but I'm firmly(ish) back on track now and it's time for you to speak up again!

This time, I am ALL OVER hearing about your favourite rums.

It's one of those spirits that doesn't seem to quite have the furore surrounding it that gin or whisky has in this country, and yet it's an integral part of our drinking culture.

From marvellous mojitos to pina coladas, some of our favourite cocktails are rum-based, a certain coconut rum is a staple part of most young ladies' first forays into the world of drinking, and let's not forget all the epic craft rums currently flooding into the country and winning our affection, BIG TIME.

Much as it's an epic flavour for mixing into cocktails, there's really nothing better than sipping and savouring a well-made rum, and we've discussed a fair few on the blog over the past few months. In fact, I was surprised to realise JUST HOW MANY we've discovered:

Vinspire's Rum Discoveries
Photo: Mike McCune (CCL)

There were supermarket specials on The Kraken Dark Spiced Rum, Chairman's Reserve and Mount Gay Eclipse, an epic and memorable flight of El Dorado and Gosling rums, brand new Koko Kanu coconut rum, The Wild Geese which came to us just in time for some hot buttered rum at Christmas, and my personal fave: Don Papa's small-batch rum, made in the Philippines.

There was also the popular, affordable Appleton Estate, tropical Doorly's XO rum, and RL Seale's Barbados rum. There was even Old Salt Rum from the English Spirit Distillery and *that* Ron de Jeremy rum...

And I happen to know for a fact that Sam has never been the same since they changed the recipe for his beloved Captain Morgan's Spiced.

Looking back, our rum finds have been some of our best and most memorable, and we've all discovered new favourites in the two years since we started Vinspire, so I'm REALLY looking forward to hearing what your favourites are.

So let me know in the comments! Did any of the above rums seduce you? Have we missed some absolute blinders? Or do you know of a cheeky supermarket label rum that's outliving its expectations? Comment below or head over to our Twitter and Facebook pages to let us know!