Saturday, 20 August 2016

Wine Travel Guide: Italy's Amalfi Coast


After a bit of a sabbatical to open my new restaurant, Craft & Cleaver in St Albans (shameless plug alert), I'm very happy to be back, writing for Vinspire again - to share ideas, experiences and opinions, be creative and hopefully make your drinking experiences even better.

Tearing myself away from work, me and the missus (Adele) booked a last minute trip to the gorgeous Amalfi coast, and a hotel in the picturesque town of Sorrento. Famed since the 50's as the 'go-to' destination of the rich and famous, this beautiful peninsula is peppered with stunning views, cliffs and fishing towns, orchards, vineyards and olive groves. It really is paradise.

As well as the magnificent sights and tourist attractions: Positano, Capri, Vesuvius and the incredible Pompeii, the Amalfi coast and the surrounding area is a drinks freaks dream. Limoncello producers are everywhere, utilising one of the fruits the region is famed for, Lemons.

These aren't just any lemons, these are gigantic, monstrous, man-eating lemons the size of footballs. Imagine a lemon on roids. The Dwayne Johnson of Lemons. If one fell on your head, you would get up and run, as I'm sure that would just be the first in a wave of attacks.

Anyways, enough about lemons, the wine here is even more special.

Although not the most famous region for grape growing and wine production in Italy, Campania has a great local production from small producers and bottlers. Grape-growing is a way of life here; the hot summers, the rich volcanic soil and limited rainfall mean that vines produce fantastic grapes, perfect for high-alcohol reds, and tart, lemony whites.

The reds are principally made from the aglianico grape and are largely similar in style to Primitivos from Apulia (the heel of Italy - also known as Puglia), or sometimes Barolo. Likewise these wines have excellent ageing potential, and a number of producers age them in oak. One, in particular, barrel-age their wines in cool stone caves along the mountains under their vineyards.

Campania is rich in ancient, heritage grapes, and the region has four DOCG's; Taurasi, Fiano de Avellino, Falerno del Massico and Greco di Tufo. Never heard of them? Neither had I...

The reason Campania is unique as a grape-growing region is its resistance to planting what is commercially popular. The ancient vines that grow here have done for thousands of years - thousands of relics from Pompeii show that the Romans loved the wine of the region as well. Grapes that grow here are almost exclusive to this region. That makes it special.

The wine produced here is even better when drunk with food. Oh the food - wow! Pizza from the region in which it was invented, al-dente Pasta, Seafood... The diet went out the window the minute we landed at Naples. How are the Italians not all fat? I just don't get it.

The reds are perfect with the local cheeses, with mozzarella and with pizza, tomato-sauce based pasta dishes and meat. The whites are perfectly matched in style to the abundance of seafood - mussels, swordfish, white fish, lobster...

 The whites have that dry, aromatic, lemony character, similar in style to the Gavi that is currently so popular in the UK. You can also easily finish off a bottle or two just people-watching, as Adele will tell you.

If (like all of us here at Vinspire) you like wine, and you need just another excuse to book yourself a trip to this stunning part of the world, you will not regret it.

Flights and half-board accommodation was £620 each for us, but you can get attractive-looking Amalfi travel packages from as little as £350 each from Thomas Cook.

Make sure you hire a car, do the Amalfi drive, visit Positano, Pompeii and Capri, and visit some of the numerous vineyards dotted around - you can also book vineyard excursions with your tour operator or locally, and have a tour of vineyards, lunch and a few glasses of wine included.


Friday, 12 August 2016

Hip Hydration: DRINKmaple Maple Water

"Amazing water doesn't grown on trees, it grows in them!"

Cheesy slogan aside, you can probably tell that carton of coconut water to do one as there's a new(er) health drink in town; DRINKmaple.

One of nature's masterpieces, maple water was discovered hundreds of years ago by Native Americans, though it's only thanks to the current health food obsession that it has started appearing on our shelves. There's such a high demand for drinks that not only taste great but also help nutritionally these days, and let's not forget that Beyoncé swears by this stuff. If it's good enough for Queen B, then it's good enough for me.

If you're wondering where exactly maple water comes from - *scratches head* - it is 'collected' by simply tapping maple trees (a process that doesn’t damage them) and allowing the water, jam-packed with a host of nutrients and minerals the trees have amassed through their roots, to run into buckets. The organic maple water is then bottled without anything being added or taken away and without any boiling. Job done.

The brand DRINKmaple sprang to life thanks to two American Ironman triathletes - wowzas - who discovered that maple water offered the most refreshing drink they could find. Created in a tree and not in a lab, it's super hydrating and naturally good for you; proof that ''Mother Nature is the best chemist.''

It has a very subtle maple-y sweet flavour, but unlike maple syrup (which is the tree's water boiled down), it isn’t high in sugar. In fact maple water has only about half the sugar of coconut water (less than 1.5g per 100ml), but does contain 46 other nutrients, including more manganese than a cup of kale – a nutrient which plays an important role in our bodies’ energy systems. We'll all be training for Ironman in no time then.

If I'm being 100% honest, I wasn't too sure about the taste of DRINKmaple; I think I was expecting a bolder maple flavour. However, putting it in smoothies for breakfast every morning changed my opinion (see the suggested recipes below). It's much lower in calories and much more thirst quenching in comparison to using something like almond milk, it has a neutral taste which doesn't fight against other flavours, and its natural sweetness means that you don't need to add any additional sweeteners - much more wholesome.

Saying that, the thing which first made DRINKmaple grab my attention was an intriguing cocktail recipe - goodbye all virtuous intentions. And seeing as I tried (pretty unsuccessfully) some boozy coconut water concoctions a while ago, I needed to do a comparison, right?

With a mix of rye whisky, maple water, mint and angostura bitters, I was a little hesitant, but I needn't have been; it slipped down in an instant. Fresh and punchy, it was wonderfully balanced and an unexpected treat! It has a bit of a summer vibe about it thanks to the mint, but with the weight of the whisky lurking behind, it could easily be an all-year-round beverage that I'd make again and again.

To test DRINKmaple's alcoholic versatility, I tried it in an Americano cocktail; Campari, sweet vermouth and maple water. Another winner; the bitterness from the Campari counteracts the sweetness from the other components, and it made a silky and refreshing aperitif. If you're trying to get into Negronis and other bitter drinks, this is the way to ease into it.

If these slightly more health conscious cocktails haven't twisted your arm, then maybe this will; for every bottle sold, 200 gallons of fresh clean water is supplied to individuals in developing nations beset by drought and disaster through the organisation More Than Sport. Buying DRINKmaple not only does you good, but helps others too!

So, whether you’re looking for a tastier thirst quencher for your gym session or an interesting base for a party cocktail pitcher, then look no further than DRINKmaple.

You can find buy it via Ocado, Wholefoods, Planet Organic and over 200 other stores, including Selfridges, Revital and Harvey Nichols. Prices range from £1.99 for a 250ml Tetra to £3.99 for 946ml.   For more recipes, visit the DRINKmaple website.

Maple Smash

1 shot WhistlePig 10 Year Rye Whiskey
1 shot DRINKmaple maple water
Dash of maple syrup
2 dashes of Angostura aromatic bitters
Muddled mint and lemon

Shake all ingredients and serve over ice. Garnish with a sprig of mint and enjoy!


1 shot Campari
1 shot sweet vermouth
1 shot DRINKmaple

Fill a glass with ice. Pour in all the ingredients, stir and serve. 

Watermelon Mint Maple Water Cooler

1 cup of diced seedless watermelon
1/2 cup of DRINKmaple
1/2 cup ice
6 leaves of fresh mint
Optional: to make this an alcoholic drink, add a shot of vodka

Combine all ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth.

Maple Cold Brew Coffee Smoothie
(serves two)

1 cup DRINKmaple pure maple water
1/4 cup of cold brew coffee concentrate
2 tbsp. chia seeds
2 tbsp. maple syrup
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup ice

Blend all ingredients and enjoy!

Maple Cherry Chocolate Smoothie
(serves two)

1 1/4 cup DRINKmaple maple water
3/4 cup frozen cherries
1 pear
2 tbsp. cacao powder
1 tbsp. chia seeds
1 tbsp. natural unflavored protein powder
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup ice

Blend all ingredients and enjoy!