Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Drinks by the Dram boozy advent calendars – the beautiful, the bold, and the bloody expensive

We’ve hit September, which means it’s officially ok for me to start talking about Christmas

And Christmas time means boozy present talk.

I almost feel that these near legendary calendars don’t need an introduction most people I know have already got one on their Santa list. Yes that’s right, it’s Drinks by the Dram advent calendar time

These babies just keep getting better every year. For 2016, there are 26 different calendars available – one for every kind of booze lover. If you’re struggling to choose, and have got a bit of spare cash lying around, you could have 25 out of the 26 for £4978.80. Or if you’re feeling flush, and really like your old whisky, that’ll be just £14978.75 for all 26.

This year, those crazy folk at Drinks by the Dram have added a Very Old & Rare whisky advent calendar for, wait for it, £9999.95. While that may be beyond the reach of most of us, boy does it sound incredible. Highlights include the Balvenie 46 year old from 1968 – which sells for a casual £19,000 a bottle, 60 year old Glenfarclas, and The Macallan 42 year old 1969 – the rarest of the rare collection. 

If you’re not a fan of surprises, you can have a look at the full list, and be amazed.  

And it won't look out of place on your mantlepiece. Each calendar comes in a bespoke wooden box handcrafted by a cabinet-maker. It's available in a walnut or Macassar ebony finish. 

If your budget doesn’t stretch quite that far, there’s the universally loved Ginvent calendar, £124.95 (made with the lovely folk at Gin Foundry), some slightly more affordable whisk(e)y options, bourbon, tequila, rum, vodka, cognac, absinthe, mezcal, and armagnac. Definitely something for everyone. 

There’s even an escalating heat naga chilli vodka calendar, £99.95, for those brave/stupid souls out there. Did someone say 240,000 Scovilles? Yummy...


If you're planning to stick with your Cadbury's calendar this year, and you're sick of those tiny measuring tapes, crap puzzle games, and plastic flicky frogs, you can also up your cracker game too. 

While you still get the hat and the crap joke (of course), you'll be flinging 3cl bottles of spirits under the table/in granny's Brussels sprouts instead. 

Here's to a happy Christmas indeed. I think it's time for me to start saving some pennies...

Monday, 12 September 2016

Wine bar review: Pall Mall Fine Wine

Hands up who’s been to Trafalgar Square? I’m guessing if you’ve ever been to London that at some point you would have visited this tourist and pigeon paradise. For me there are many reasons to visit this corner of London; the galleries, easy access to Covent Garden, Leicester Square and Buckingham Palace, nice restaurants, the list goes on and on... Now I have found one more reason – Pall Mall FineWine

Nestled in one of London’s oldest shopping arcades, the Royal Opera Arcade, just off Pall Mall itself, is this gem of a little wine bar. I visited her sister establishment, Shepherd Market Wine Bar, earlier this year and was very pleased to be invited to check out this bar.

The Bar

As you walk in to the bar you are immediately struck by the pretty, yet somewhat eclectic décor. Laid out in an unmistakably French cave du vin style, it features pretty little ornaments, trinkets, objets d’art, paintings, newspaper cuttings. One of my favourite features was a series of music sheets perched on top of one of the door frames. The bar has a long-standing relationship with notable artist Simon Key, who produces illustrations for ‘Private Eye’ and several of his pieces are festooned around in a pleasingly haphazard manner. 

Wedged at the end of the bar is a piano, with a promise that if one were to play a pleasing tune to amuse the clientele that a reward would be forthcoming in a liquid form; I was very tempted, but my (admittedly meagre) piano skills are rather rusty currently…

The layout of the bar is rather neat. There are a series of tables outside in the arcade, that provides an almost Parisian feel (helped when I was there by the fact that real French people were sat outside drinking wine and smoking cigarettes!). The main bar is on the ground floor and features about 10 small tables for people to huddle around. There is an upstairs area with a couple of rooms where tastings or private functions can take place. The bar has a food menu to accompany its wine which predominantly focuses on charcuterie; there are also some rather good looking dessert options.  

I was greeted by Laurence, who runs the establishment and leads the team of three who ensure its smooth operation. The wine-list falls into two categories: they have 60 or so wines that are available by the glass or by the bottle; additionally, they have a fine wine list of wines, which are available only by the bottle. For the fine wines, the price is the same (bar a £9 corkage fee) whether you are buying to drink in or take home with you. The list overall has a strong French influence to it (which is in keeping with the French décor and the French staff), but there is some other old-world representation from Germany and Italy, as well as some new-world wines from USA, South Africa and New Zealand.

I tried a number of wines from their list and found them to be very pleasant and, rather reasonably priced – especially when considering the environs.


I started with a 2015 L’espirit de Provence Vermentino (Côte de Provence, France; price £6.50/glass or £24.95/bottle) which I found to be joyfully peachy, juicy and fresh on the nose, which translated to a clean, decent taste. Next up I tried a 2014 Domaine de Janasse Viognier (Rhône, France; price £8.00/glass or £30.95/bottle) – after all, everyone loves Viognier; don’t they? This had a decadently heady nose, with a slightly floral twang to it. On the palate it was fresh and fruity with stone fruits (apricots and peach) dominating, before ending with a slightly mellow honey-flavour.


I started on the red side with a 2013 Urlar Gladstone Pinot Noir (Wairarapa, NZ; price £8.00/glass or £32.95/bottle) which had a pleasing soft red cherry nose, accompanied by a touch of perfumed rose. It had a nice, smooth profile to it, with typically low tannins. Not the most complex Pinot that one will ever drink, but rather decent at the price. After this I moved onto a 2012 Chateau des Gravières (Grave, Bordeaux, France; price £6.50/glass or £27.95/bottle), which was a wine of considerably more presence; it featured a strong blackcurrant nose, but on the mouth it was deeper with some tobacco notes to add a nice secondary profile. I finished with a 2011 Chateau de Cénac (Cahors, France; price £8.50/glass or £33.95/bottle) which had a rich, dark black cherry nose to it and a rich, moussey chocolate taste to it. A very nice wine – and a reminder to where the real home of Malbec is!


I really enjoyed my visit to Pall Mall Fine Wine; I found it relaxing and comfortable, with an excellent wine list. Given its central location it will definitely become a regular part of my planning for when I brave the crowds and the pigeons.
Many thanks to Laurence for looking after me so well. I certainly plan on returning!
The details:
Pall Mall Fine Wine
Units 6 - 8 Royal Opera Arcade
Open: 1200 - 2030 Mon; 1100 - 2300 Tues - Fri; 1400 - 1800 Sat; closed Sundays.
Disclaimer: I attended as a guest of Pall Mall Fine Wine, nonetheless the opinions contained within this article are my own and were not in any way influenced by the hospitality.