Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Drinks in Tube tasting sets review

The last time I had a drink out of a test tube, I was in a dodgy club in Birmingham about nine years ago. I think it was Apple Sourz, and it contained more sugar and E-numbers than alcohol…

Flash forward to 2017, and I’m opening an expensive looking giftbox containing five over-sized 100ml test tubes filled with French wines from The Rhone, Bordeaux, Graves, Provence, and Burgundy.

If you want to try more expensive wines in the comfort of your own home, you’d usually have to fork out for a few bottles. But this is where Drinks in Tube comes in.

Back in 2007, French wine growers came up with the 100ml tube to enable tasting of their wines. The Hampshire-based Drinks in Tube team came across the idea in 2014, and they’ve developed the business from there, selling wines and spirits in handy taster packs.

As well as wines, they’ve expanded to gins, rums, cognacs, vodkas, and spirit-filled Christmas crackers. Most of the sets are around the £30 mark, but some of the spirits sets cost from £20 for three tubes.

If you’re struggling for present ideas for friends or family who want to learn a bit more about wine, they’re a bit different from the usual standard bottle of vino. The packaging looks expensive and high quality, and in each set, you get tasting notes and information on each wine.

My wine box contained: Crozes Hermitage Domaine Habrard; Saint Emilion Grand Cru Chateau Coutet; Sauternes La Perle d’Arche; Cotes de Provence Rose Chateau de Saint-Martin; and Chablis Premier Cru ‘Montmains’ Domaine du Chardonnay.

Both the reds were really full-bodied and rich – absolutely my kind of wines – and I made sure to have them with a proper French cheeseboard. Naturally.

The Chablis Premier Cru was my favourite, and the one I was most disappointed about only having 100ml to try! It’s full and creamy and rich and packed with stone fruit. I also really enjoyed the sticky sweet caramel deliciousness of the Sauternes. But when don’t I enjoy a Sauternes? I was most disappointed in the Rose. For me it just didn’t really have anything to it. It’s described as ‘delicate’, but I felt it just disappeared on the palate. One out of five ain't bad going though!

I think most people would be happy to receive one of these sets as a present for any occasion. They'll certainly change opinions about drinks in test tubes, anyway.

Drinks in Tube sent me a wine set to review, but as ever, my opinions are my own.

Friday, 16 June 2017

The English Sparkling Wine Show

If you're a regular reader of Vinspire, then you will probably be well aware of the excitement that surrounds English Sparkling Wine. The facts have been known about for a while, the soils in the south-east of England that bear the same chalky characteristics that made Champagne famous, the yearly increase in temperatures due to climate change that are making conditions get better and better for growing those hallowed grapes of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. This has resulted in English Sparkling Wine taking a whole heap of awards in wine tastings (some even above Champagnes themselves...) and has seen some Champagne Houses starting to look to acquire vineyards in the UK.

What's in a name?

In fact, probably the only thing that English Sparkling Wine hasn't yet got sorted for itself is a nice, snappy name! If you use the words Champagne, Prosecco or Cava then most people immediately comprehend what you are talking about; not only does it explain a regional location, but it also practically becomes a brand in its own right. Champagne speaks of opulence and celebration, whereas Prosecco speaks of summer drinkies in the sun. "English Sparkling Wine" isn't elegant or pithy as a phrase, indeed there have been some moves for "Sussex Wine" to be granted an official designation under EU regulation (although Brexit may scupper  this...); you can read more about this in this Decanter article. The only problem with this is that not all English Sparkling Wine comes from Sussex, indeed you do get some Sparkling Wine in Wales (and as such you can't even really talk about "English" Sparkling Wine)!

The English Sparkling Wine Show

Still, with all the excitement about English Sparkling Wine, I was delighted to be invited to the first English Sparkling Wine Show at The Hoxton Hotel in Shoreditch a couple of weeks ago. This event brought together a selection of some of the premier producers from around the country and put them under one roof. This was a really exciting tasting as it allowed us to spend proper time comparing the different producers and seeing the breadth of styles, but also savour the high quality of these drinks.

Most bottles of English Sparkling Wine retail at between £25 - £35 this puts them in the same price bracket as NV offerings from recognised brands such as Moët or Laurent-Perrier. This tasting confirmed what I have long suspected - a vintage English Sparkling Wine from a good producer represents absolutely better quality and Value for Money than a NV Champagne.

The following producers were featured at the show:
  1. Bolney Estate (Haywards Heath, West Sussex)
  2. Hindleap (Furner's Green, East Sussex) - our own Rachael was lucky enough to visit this vineyard recently, which you can read about here
  3. Digby's
  4. Langham (Dorchester, Dorset)
  5. Smith and Evans (Langport, Somerset)
  6. Hoffmann and Rathbone (Mountfield, East Sussex)
  7. A'Beckett's (Devizes, Wiltshire)
  8. Herbert Hall (Marden, Kent)
  9. Black Dog Hill (Ditchling, East Sussex)
  10. Danebury (Stockbridge, Hampshire)
  11. Blackdown Ridge Estate (West Sussex)
  12. Henners (Herstmonceux, West Sussex)
Each of the producers had something interesting on show, but I had a couple of favourites that I particularly enjoyed:

2014 "Primordia", Blackdown Ridge Estate: a blend of 51% Pinot Noir, 39% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Meunier, which has a refreshingly elegant profile of those warm, toasty notes coupled with some lively stone fruit. On tasting, I found it to have a nice balance to the wine, refreshingly acidic, but with some generous green apple bite. This was a properly refined wine.

2013 Black Dog Hill Classic Cuvee: Still has a slight hint of that biscuity element, but this is a more fruit-driven wine with plenty of crunch on it, flavours of lemon and gooseberry gave it a brilliance. On the mouth, what I found particularly pleasing was the long and balanced finish; a nice aperitif wine.

Herbet Hall: I enjoyed both their Brut (their premium wine) and their rosé; in particular the rosé (with its higher proportion of Pinot Noir) had a lovely tart delicateness to it with flavours of cranberries and redcurrants.       
If you are yet to discover the joys of English Sparkling Wine then I heartily recommend that you try them out. Most of the major supermarkets now stock labels such as Chapel Down and Hush Heath, whilst names like Nyetimber are going from strength to strength. However, there are many small up and coming vineyards such as those that were featured at this tasting, plus they're all situated in beautiful parts of the world - why not pay them a visit?

Thank you to Fabio at Mousseux Anglais and Su-Lin for the invite to the event and for organising.

Also thanks to Luca, some of whose photos are used above, with permission.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Wine for Beginners: Born to do it - is a good palate in your genes?

What is so difficult about tasting wine? You pour it, slurp it, give it the thumbs up or thumbs down and either cast it into wine oblivion, never to be bought again or put it on the 'must get again' list. 

Not brain surgery, you would say.

Well, it seems that the power of wine critics in the world and the fact that the overlord of all critics, Robert Parker, has insured his taste buds for a cool $1 million means that having a pinpoint sense of taste and sensory skill can make you a lot of money in a world obsessed with immediate gratification.

With such power (quite literally) at the tip of their tongue, it makes you wonder how they got such talented tonsils in the first place. Was this something that they achieved through serious commitment to their chosen profession, slurping and spitting delectable vino on a daily basis? Or were chromosomes that made them up just geared towards having a Superman-esque palate?

Firstly, you have to know what the word 'palate' actually means.

There is no muscle, bone or ligament that is called the palate, it really is a combination of all the senses that a human being possesses to evaluate food or drink (smell & taste in tandem), and also the ability to actually verbalise the tastes you are getting.

The creation of the Wine Aroma Wheel back in the 80's (remember them?) helped people who probably had a fantastic palate, but who had no idea how to actually describe the flavours, into the demi-gods of wine tasting with a simple turn of a paper wheel.

So, lets have a look at the biology aspect of it.

You pick up many different aspects of a wine from the sensors within your laughing tackle. The sides of your mouth and tongue pick up the acidity of the wine (the more your mouth waters after drinking it, the more acidity the wine has), the tannins (or the structure/grip) of a wine is picked up on the gums (if they go furry or dry, the higher the tannins in the wine), the alcohol level you feel on the back of the throat (and the pounding in your head the morning after), but most importantly the sweetness of a wine is felt on the tip of the tongue (where the majority of your taste sensors are).

These amount of these 'sensors' (called Papillae) apparent on a tasters tongue is directly representative to how good the taster is. A study was conducted back in 2003 showed that 25% of the people tested were considered 'non-tasters' (or had very few papillae on the tip of their tongue), 50% were average tasters and the other 25% classed as bona-fide 'super-tasters'.

The same can be said of the nasal receptors (nostrils to you and me). The more 'sensors' you have there, the more you will be able to pick up and therefore the better your overall palate will be.

But what of us mere mortals, who are lacking in the papillae department and have nostrils the size of a petit pois? Well, as the old adage goes, its not the size that matters, its what you damn well do with it...

Experience seems to be key when it comes to developing a palate that would make a wine merchant swoon in longing. The more liquid that passes your lips, the more your senses pick up on what they like and what they don't, thus meaning you can start to pick up what the hallmarks of a bad/good wine are.

Palates evolve. What you taste first time round, may not be what you taste second time round, 2 months later, 6 months later, 1 year later, etc, etc... By trying different wines from different climates, countries, altitudes, your senses tune themselves to spot oddities and nuances that were not apparent in other wines you may have tried from other spots in the world.

The bite at the end of the tail and the story that will make all of us budding wine maniacs live in hope of our day in the spotlight is that it doesn't matter how much of an 'expert' someone proclaims to be, there is a massive slip up just around the corner. Back in 2002, a researcher from Bordeaux invited 54 eminent tasters to a 'grand' tasting of some Bordeaux wines. However, he used this opportunity to conduct a few cheeky cons on them and prove the saying of 'do not judge a book its cover'.

In one of them, he poured some wine in the glasses of the judges and labelled it a prestige, grand cru, top dollar wine. Reactions such as 'woody', 'refined' and 'complex' were spouted. Cue the same wine being poured into the glasses, but labelled as a cheap, run-of-the-mill, plonk. Reactions here were 'weak', 'flat' and 'had a sting'.

The statement trying to be made here? You taste what you think you should be tasting. If you think you are tasting the pinnacle of winemaking, you will go overboard in your praise. However, if you think you are tasting an ordinary drop, you'll not exactly explode in your enjoyment.

I suppose what I am trying to say is that its easy to get caught up in the thinking that someone has that 'thing' in them for high class tasting. Its in their bones, its in their DNA.

However, if you kick a football against a wall all your life, you'll end up being good at football; if you sing into the mirror every morning, you'll be able to hold a tune; and if you enjoy a glass or two every know and again, not only will you get tipsy, you may just become a dab hand in this game we call wine.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Bluebell Vineyard tour and tasting – Hindleap English sparkling wine

‘Are you in France?’ my friend asked after I posted a photo of Bluebell Vineyard Estates. Close, I guess, but no, I’m a bit closer to home in the stunning Sussex countryside.

Stepping out of the car at Bluebell, I genuinely felt myself instantly relax. It’s a bit different to London life… The four gorgeously lazy Labradors that live at Bluebell ambled over to say hello, as I looked over the vines soaking up the afternoon sun.  

Bluebell Vineyard Estates used to be the site of a former pig farm, home to Large Whites, Landrace, and Blue Cross Pigs. Things have certainly changed since then, and it’s now home to the award-winning Hindleap wines. After the first vine plantings in 2005, the vineyard has more than doubled in size.

I was surprised by the size of the operation for the impressive amount of wine produced, with four full-time staff doing most of the work, and grape pickers coming in for a few weeks a year. Currently, the vineyard produces 40,000 bottles a year, but is hoping to increase this to 100,000 over the coming years.

In 2015, there were 502 vineyards in the UK, with 133 wineries. Annual production stood at 5.06m bottles, with suggestions this will increase to 12m by 2020. The top three grape varieties planted in the UK are Chardonnay (23% of total vine plantings), Pinot Noir (22%), and Bacchus (8%). 

Bluebell Vineyard has more than 100,000 vines growing Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Seyval Blanc grapes. The lovely Collette O'Leary, winemaker at Bluebell took us on a tour of the vineyard. After serving time in PR in London, she decided she wanted a change, enrolled on a winemaking degree at Plumpton College, and hasn’t looked back since.

Collette explained the vines are spread out across the 70 acres of beautiful Sussex countryside, according to site and soil conditions, and to maximise the chances of having all the varieties growing every year, in case of any frost or disease. I knew that frost could be devastating for vines, but I had no idea the methods or lengths some vineyards go to mitigate the problem, including lighting hundreds of candles among the vines in the middle of the night to keep the air moving, or even using sprinklers to freeze the vines. As the water changes to ice on the surface of the vine, it releases a small amount of latent heat that protects the vine from damage.

The grapes are harvested by hand around the first week of October, and are whole-bunch pressed, before being fermented in stainless steel tanks over four weeks, at a cool 12-13 degrees Celsius. The base wines (not yet sparkling, and they don’t taste anything like the finished product which makes it even harder for the winemakers), are kept over winter on their gross yeast lees (which is unusual, and quite a lot longer than other winemakers would leave them). Collette said it helps to enhance mouthfeel and structure, and improve the stability of the wines, but if any ‘off’ aromas start to make themselves known, the wines will be racked immediately.

Come spring, Kevin Sutherland, head winemaker, finalises the blends for each style. The wines are then bottled for a secondary fermentation and aged for 17-60 months on yeast lees, so every wine is vintage, and varies a lot from year to year.

Tasting time: the wines

In just five years, the Hindleap range of sparkling wines have won more than 60 national and international awards. After our very informative tour, we sat down in the tasting room to try the range, as well as giving our verdict on the base wines for a future wine, which was something I’d never done before. It gave a really interesting insight into how these wines taste a couple of years before anyone else gets to try them, and just how different they are at this stage too.

2014 Blanc de Blanc, 100% Chardonnay, £27
This is Bluebell Vineyard’s signature wine. It’s light in colour, with fine bubbles and loads of green fruit on the nose. There’s a pleasant sharpness on the palate with pink grapefruit notes, and a long, creamy finish. Collette says it’s enjoyable mow, but will also continue to gain complexity over the coming years.

2013 barrel aged Blanc de Blanc – 100% Chardonnay, £32
This was my absolute favourite. The wine was fermented in stainless steel before spending six months in French oak barrels, and spent a minimum of 30 months on lees. Oh I loved it. There’s vanilla and a sweetness on the nose, with a moreish biscuity flavour. It’s delicious and creamy and rich, with a long finish.

2013 Rose – 77% Pinot Noir, 23% Pinot Meunier, £26
This is a really lovely, delicate wine that would be perfect to enjoy over the summer. Kick start your barbecue with a glass of this. It’s elegant and well-balanced, with plenty of strawberry on the palate.

2013 Seyval Blanc – 100% Seyval Blanc, £22
This was my first taste of Seyval Blanc, and I would definitely go back for more. The grape is apparently very well suited to the English climate, and the result is a fresh, light and zesty wine. There’s bags of green apple on the palate, with a floral and herbaceous nose.

2014 Classic Cuvee – 61% Chardonnay, 24% Pinot Noir, 15% Pinot Meunier, £25
This is a fragrant, floral wine, with a delicious richness, which leads to citrus and pear on the palate, and a lingering finish.

If you’re in the area, the vineyard is open to the public for tours and tastings.

Tours run on Thursday, Friday and Saturdays (£16 per person, book in advance). Or the Tasting Room is open 10am-4pm Monday to Saturday throughout the year, so you can pop in and try a flight of four sparkling wines for £5 per person.

You can buy the Hindleap wines online, from the vineyard, or the Blanc de Blanc from M&S, and the Rose from Waitrose

Monday, 29 May 2017

The best drink subscription boxes

Over the past few years, subscription boxes have sprung up out of nowhere. You can pretty much get anything delivered to your door on a regular basis now, from bacon to mysteries, and moss of the month to cheese toasties.

So it probably comes as no surprise that there are plenty of drinks subscription services out there now too. But which one to choose? Here's our pick of the best.

Drop Secret drinks club – the best of all worlds

If you’re indecisive like me, independent wine merchants The Secret Cellar, based in Tunbridge Wells, have come up with a pretty novel idea for a boozy subscription box… Drop Secret.

They’re combining all the boozy clubs. For £40 (with free delivery), you get either bottles of small production wine, an artisan spirit, craft beers, or anything else that goes. And it remains top secret until it arrives at your door.

You can choose whether you want deliveries to be monthly, bi-monthly, or quarterly, and start, stop and pause deliveries whenever you choose.

They kindly sent me over the first month’s delivery to see how it all worked. It came with three bottles of wine.

The Flower and the Bee, Treixadura 2015, Galicia, NW Spain This Treixadura was a first for me. It’s very bright yellow, almost gold, and is a great, full-flavoured white wine. It packs a punch, with a fruity intensity, herbs, and a bit of spice. It’s certainly not heavy though, just really, really fresh.

Sibiliano, Nero d’Avola 2015, Sicily, Italy This is a lovely deeply-coloured, medium bodied red. There’s plenty of cherry on the nose, and forest fruits and muted spice flavours. A bit savoury on the finish.

Alto de la Ballena, Tannat/Merlot/Cabernet Franc 2009, Maldonado, Uruguay This is a very successful blend of 40% Merlot, 30% Tannat and 30% Cabernet Franc from Uruguay, so a bit different from the usual Argentina/Chile wines you may be used to. The Tannat is aged in the barrel for nine months to soften the tannins, before being blended. It’s really delicious: big, dark and fruity, and relatively limited too, as only 12,000 bottles have been produced.

Of course, you won’t be getting those if you sign up, that will be kept a mystery, but it’s hopefully given you a taster of the quality of products you’ll be receiving.

£40 a month
Sign me up

True Tea Club

If the thought of constant booze through the post makes you want to detox, then perhaps True Tea Club is the one for you?

They’re based up in York and specialise in seven loose leaf teas.

In each box you get four different loose leaf teas which change every month, and four empty tea bags, along with a welcome card, business card, and tailor card.

There are three different levels of subscription: Standard gives you 40 teas for £10 per month; Premium will make you 60 cups for £15 per month; or Deluxe makes 80 teas for £20 per month.

Each month’s box is released on the 20th of the month, but the boxes are sent out throughout the month. Delivery is free, and you can get international delivery for £3.75, if you want your tea fix from further afield.

In the box I was sent, I had Vanilla Cupcake rooibos, Earl Grey Rebel black tea, the wonderfully-named Rainbow Chaser herbal blend, and Mighty Mango green tea to try.

Mighty Mango was my absolute favourite. Despite instructions saying to only brew it for 10-20secs, the smell and flavour was quite intense and really delicious. But I am a sucker for a fruit tea. I also really enjoyed the Earl Grey Rebel and Rainbow Chaser, which was as brightly coloured and flavoured as the name would suggest. Vanilla Cupcake was a bit sweet for my liking, but the flavour was of real vanilla, rather than the synthetic taste you often get from vanilla flavoured things.

£10/£15/£20 a month,
Sign me up, and get 50% off your first subscription box using code 'LOVE' on checkout.

Craft Gin Club

Every month you get a small-batch gin, sometimes a rare and exclusive bottling not available anywhere else, and it’s sent out with complementary foodie treats and a copy of the Ginned! magazine. I know several people that have signed up to this one and it always looks like a really exciting bit of post to receive.

£40 a month, including postage (you can also do bi-monthly and quarterly, and you get £10 off your first box)
Sign me up

Your Sommelier

If you want to learn more about French wine in particular, or if you just love French wine (and who doesn’t?), then Your Sommelier will be your subscription box of choice.

Every month you’ll receive three bottles of French wine in the post. Each box comes with tasting cards for each of the wines, which includes plenty of info about the wine, food pairing suggestions, and facts about the region and appellation. You’ll also get a binder with the first month’s box, so you can keep all your cards neatly together.

If you’re taken with any of the wines in your box, you can order them again with a 20% discount.

You can choose between an Amateur box (£36 a month), and an Expert box (£60 a month). The Amateur box gets you three wines from independent domains, and the Expert box contains upmarket appellations and cuvées.

I was sent an Amateur box, with three wines from Bordeaux.

Château Lamartine 2011, Castillon Côtes de BordeauxCastillon Côtes de Bordeaux is on the right bank, close to Saint Emilion (which is where you find a lot of easy-drinking Bordeaux). This is similar in character: it’s light, fresh and fruity. I paired it with a Thai rare beef salad.

Château Dubois Gramont 2015, AOC Bordeaux Blanc This is a blend of 70% Sauvignon Blanc, and 30% Semillon, so you get the fruity minerality from the Sauvignon, and an interesting aroma from the Semillon. Super fresh, and best enjoyed in the sunshine.

Château du Relai de la Poste 2012, Bordeaux Côtes de Bourg This is a classic Bordeaux Blend from the Cotes de Bourg appellation. It’s 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 40% Merlot. The Cab Sauv brings structure to the wine, and you get fruit and softness from the Merlot. It’s a good wine to bring out alongside your roast on a Sunday. 

£36/£60 a month
Sign me up

Tipple Box: cocktails in the post

Small-batch spirits and exclusive ingredients sent through the post every month, so you can make your own cocktails at home. You get two recipes, four 50ml spirits, and other exclusive ingredients.

£24 a month, including postage
Sign me up

My Vitibox: Wine

With My Vitibox, you get one or two bottles of wine, a magazine with tasting cards (and a welcome gift with your first box). The ‘colours and flavours’ package is £20 a month, with the ‘red passion’ box featuring two wines chosen by Alain Gousse (former sommelier at starred restaurant La Tour D'Argent) for £30 a month.

£20/£30 a month
Sign me up

Beer 52

If hops are more your thing, then perhaps Beer 52 is for you? Each month you get eight beers, a magazine, and bonus snacks for £24. All the beers are delivered to you within four-six weeks of being brewed, and you can order more if you run out. You can also send a one off gift box.

£24 a month, including postage
Sign me up

Beer Merchants

Or there’s Beer Merchants. They offer ten seasonal beers a month for £30 (or £28 if you sign up for a year), and mixed cases focusing on countries, breweries and styles. On top of that there’s discounts across the site, and invites to beer events.

£28/£30 a month, including postage.
Sign me up

Orchard Box

Every month you get sent eight craft ciders, two snacks, and various other goodies (you can specify vegan and gluten free too). All the ciders chosen are made with real juice, not from concentrate, and they promise you’ll never find anything in their boxes that you could find in a supermarket.

£28.99, including postage
Sign me up

Crafty Nectar

Depending on whether you fancy six or 12 bottles of craft cider a month, Crafty Nectar has got you covered. All their ciders are handpicked from around the UK, and again, you won't be finding any of these in supermarkets. The subscription is flexible so you can skip a month, or cancel anytime.

6 bottles, £28.50, including postage / 12 bottles, £41.50, including postage.
Sign me up

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Gin and tonic and ice-cream pop-up – World Gin Day 2017

G+T and botanical ice cream

World Gin Day is fast approaching, again! It seems like only a few G+Ts ago that it was WGD2016, and well, there have been many, many gins since last year’s frivolities.  

As ever, there will be plenty going on all around the UK, and further afield, but one thing that has caught our eye is a gin and tonic ice cream parlour pop-up.

Just when you think gin can’t get any better, they go and add ice cream into the mix.

Gin Mare and ice cream geniuses Ruby Violet are bringing the best sounding combo to the Capital for two days only. 

You’ll be able to find them in the courtyard at The Hoxton Hotel, Shoreditch, between 9-11 June.

The ice cream and sorbets will be infused with gin botanicals, and topped with crystallised rosemary, dried olive, botanical brittle, savoury wafer, and gin-soaked orange peel. Yum. And of course, it’ll be served alongside Gin Mare G+Ts, garnished with the likes of mango and black pepper.

Each gin and tonic, with ‘complimentary and complementary’ ice cream, will cost you £5, which in London sounds like an absolute bargain.

We cannot wait.

G&T Ice Cream Parlour, 2-8pm, 9-11 June, courtyard at The Hoxton,Shoreditch

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Cooking with Booze: Rum, Apple & Ginger Cake

The Bank Holiday has had me baking. It’s no secret that I love cake – making it, eating it.. eating it. Hell, I'll even settle for just looking at cake; drooling over pictures in some kind of perverted fashion.. But enough about that, we won't mention it again.

Anyway, the generous extra day off of work has meant that I can leisurely make a floury mess in the kitchen, pour myself a drink while it’s in the oven, and then really take my time to enjoy every last crumb. I might just return for another slice as soon as my plate is empty - it's only a sliver, no one will notice - we can keep that between us, yes?

Inspired by those lovely Hawkes Alcoholic Ginger Beer cocktails that I made the other week, I’ve plumped for a Rum, Apple and Ginger cake with lime icing. A spiced cake may not sound very seasonal, but it's got that gingery warmth that gives you a big hug during those springtime showers, and the zingy lime assures us that summer is on its way.

Let's not beat around the bush, we need to talk rum. As with many of our 'Cooking with Booze' features (check them out here), we advise certain varieties/brands, but ultimately we want you to try the recipe out yourself, so we approve of - and indeed encourage - you using your own preferences or whatever you might have handy. Keep us informed of your off piste adaptations, we love hearing about them!

For this cake recipe I'd suggest using a dark rum; you want something that packs a punch, though I'd maybe stay away from 'spiced' varieties (i.e. Morgan's Spiced or Sailor Jerry's) as it would over complicate the flavours. We've reviewed a number of rum's in the past, El Dorado, Chairman's Reserve, Doorly's, to name a few, but I've opted for Appleton Estate's Jamaica Rum; it's a perfect partner to ginger, and it worked a sweet-treat in our Rum Butter Pancake Day Recipe, so it was sure fire hit in my eyes.

Try it out for yourself; just don’t blame me if you eat more than you probably should.

Rum, Apple & Ginger Cake with Lime Icing (serves 8)

For the cake:
  • 35g dried apple
  • 5 tbsp dark rum
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 125g self raising flour
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • ½ tbsp ground ginger
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • a grating of nutmeg
  • 75g unsalted butter
  • 50g black treacle
  • 75g golden syrup
  • 75g muscovado sugar
  • 1 tbsp milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 pieces of stem ginger (in syrup), finely chopped
For the icing:
  • 150g full fat cream cheese
  • 75g icing sugar
  • zest of 1 lime
  1. Place the apples, rum, zest and juice of the lemon in a bowl. Cover and leave overnight to soak.
  2. Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan). Grease and line a 15cm round cake tin.
  3. Mix together the flour, bicarbonate of soda and spices in a bowl.
  4. Melt the butter in a pan. Remove from the heat and add the treacle, golden syrup, sugar and milk, and thoroughly mix. Stir the treacle mixture into the flour mix along with the egg and stem ginger.
  5. Remove the apples from the rum and chop roughly. Fold the apples and any remaining boozy liquid into the cake mixture.
  6. Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 1 hour. The cake is ready when it has come away from the sides of the tin and when you slide a skewer into it, it comes out clean. Remove the cake from the oven, leave to cool in the tin for 15 minutes before transferring it to a wire rack to cool completely.
  7. To make the icing, whip the cream cheese until smooth. Sieve over the icing sugar, add the lime zest and beat until combined. Top the cake with the icing, decorate if you wish, and serve.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Friday Cocktail: 4 of the Best Italian Cocktails

Many members of the Vinspire team have recently spent time eating and drinking our way around Italy (all in the name of research, of course). So next in our series of Italian love-in posts is this, the best cocktails the Italians have to offer. You're welcome.

The Italians do drinks proper. From Super Tuscans (and many, many other wines for that matter) to strong, dark coffee, Italians are big on flavour, and perfectionists when it comes to the execution; you'll never find an Italian restaurant with improper sized espresso cups, or one serving Prosecco from a wine glass, and the cocktails are no exception.
Photo: CCFoodTravel

First up is one of the most famous cocktails in the world, the Bellini. A classic mix of peach puree topped with sparkling wine (Prosecco, obvz).

Invented in Harry's Bar in Venice in the 1930/40s, this classic has adorned drinks menus the world over ever since. Alongside its famous cousin, however, you'll usually find the Rossini on most Italian cocktail menus - simply swap the peach juice you'd find in a Bellini for fresh strawberry purée, and top with Prosecco. Molto bene.

From one Prosecco based cocktail to another (why change the habit of a lifetime?) - the lesser known Sgroppino.

A fusion of the country's national sparkling wine, vodka and that most delicious of palate cleansers, lemon sorbet. Often served at the end of a meal, as opposed to something a cocktail bar would rustle up. Rarely listed on menus, but order one anyway and feel smug with your local knowledge.

Or make your own:

Sgroppino recipe (serves one)

1 scoop lemon sorbet
25ml vodka
75ml prosecco

1. Pop the sorbet in a cocktail shaker (or jar or bowl if you don't have one) and splash over a bit of the Prosecco, then gently mix until the two are combined.
2. Towards the end of your mixing, add the vodka and give it a quick stir.
3. Pour in the rest of the prosecco and gently stir to combine.
4. Pour into a martini glass or coupe and enjoy.

Possibly the second most famous cocktail export (after the much-loved and, in our case, much-imbibed, Bellini), is the Negroni.

Photo: Lachlan Hardy (CCL)
Made with gin, red vermouth and Campari, a good Negroni is the perfect balance of bitter, dry and sweetness. Garnished with orange peel and served on the rocks, there's little better than this short, strong drink served as an aperitif. Here's the classic recipe:

Classic Negroni Recipe

1 shot gin
1 shot campari
1 shot red vermouth
Orange peel, to garnish

1. Pour all the ingredients over a tumbler or old-fashioned glass filled with ice, and stir.
2. Garnish with orange peel.

But the Italians don't just do pre-dinner drinks; aperitivo applies late morning, late afternoon and pre-dinner. Who doesn't love a country that takes cocktail hour so seriously?! The Italian's drink of choice for aperitivo is the Spritz.

Traditionally made with Campari, Prosecco and soda, this long drink is now offered with Aperol as a Campari substitute. Our advice? Stick to the classic if you like the bitterness, or go with Aperol for something a little sweeter.

Have you tried any other Italian cocktails not in our list which really out to be? Let us know if the comments.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Top 10 Easy Tequila Cocktails

It's FRIDAY! The perfect time to share some delicious, easy tequila cocktail recipes with you.

When I was much younger, Friday meant promises of a weekend of dancing the night away and knocking back a few tequila slammers, but once I sort of grew out of my crazy party days, I also fell out of love with tequila a bit. It just didn't seem very grown up.

Now it's rarely at the top of my cocktail ingredient list, despite being responsible for some of the world's most popular cocktails - like the margarita - and I know I'm not alone in this. We've written before about where to find good tequila, and now I thought it was high time I did a run-down of some of the tastiest ways to get this feisty spirit back into your lives.

So if you do just one thing this weekend, give one of these ten easy tequila cocktails a try: they're elegant, full of flavour and full of bite and zing. I'm falling back in love with tequila again.

1. The Paloma

A bit of a classic, this is very deserving of a place on your go-to cocktails list. You only need simple, accessible ingredients: tequila, lime, grapefruit juice, simple syrup and soda.

Try this super recipe from Annie's Eats.

2. South X Southwest

An amazing creation from Josh Pearson at Sepia bar, I stumbled across this on the Cosmopolitan website recently and fell in love. It's full of some of my favourite flavours: tequila, rosemary, moscato d'asti, elderflower liqueur and lemon juice. YUM.

3. Cherry margarita

I came up with this back in Vinspire's early days, and it remains a firm favourite both with me and you guys! Fresh cherries, lime, tequila, triple sec, sugar syrup - and salt for the rim. Flavour explosions.

4. Midori Mambo

Ah, the perfect way to use up the Midori I've had knocking about for a few months (or a great excuse to try a bottle if you haven't)! This melon liqueur blends with coconut cream, lime juice and tequila for a big tropical fiesta in your mouth.

5. Iced Teaquila

Aside from having an amazing pun name, this cocktail is also good because it combines refreshing, earthy iced tea with naughty tequila and lemon. The recipe for this one is over at Food and Wine.

6. Salty Chihuahua

Like the vodka-based salty dog, this recipe has grapefruit, salt and orange liqueur - with a big old slug of tequila. I think I prefer it the Mexican way. Recipe from Eating Well.

7. Plum Dinger

I created this on a cold, miserable Autumn day in 2013, and I can't decide if the drink or the name cheered me up more (I know, I'm so modest. But I love a pun!)

It's plum juice, rosemary, amaretto, tequila and orange juice - and it's one of those cocktails that makes me long for the end of summer (even though it hasn't even started yet.)

8. Tequila Blackberry Lemonade

Another autumnal treat, there's something effortlessly delicious about this cocktail recipe from Real Housemoms. It's only three ingredients (the clue's in the name) and you can whip it up in about 2 minutes = perfect cocktail recipe for the end of a long week!

9. Strawberry Jalapeno Margarita

Of all the margarita variations, this has to be one of the most exciting. It's from The Chic Site and I've seen it doing the rounds on Pinterest more times than I care to remember. Tequila, orange liqueur, simple syrup (or agave nectar if you feel fancy), lime, strawberries, jalapenos and salt. A lengthy but easily findable list of ingredients for a showy-offy cocktail.

10. Margarita sangria

Wow. Just wow. This is seriously boozy but oh so drinkable - just be careful to pace yourself. White wine, tequila, triple sec, oranges and orange juice, limes and lime juice, and some coriander - so it's equal parts naughty and nice!

 It's completely delicious - which is appropriate as it's from the Completely Delicious blog.

Huge thanks to all these brilliant blogs and magazines for bringing the 'happy' back to my tequila cocktails!

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Songs About Drinking: a Boozy Playlist

Cocktails at the Alchemist

Cheers to the freakin’ weekend. Whether you’re gonna have yourself a beer, hitting the gin ‘n’ juice, getting on the shots (shots, shots, shots, shots), or sipping tequila (it makes me happy), let this playlist be the soundtrack to your boozy weekend.

Who knew there were so many songs about the noble art of drinking? From the downright miserable (a playlist for a later date perhaps, I don’t want to bring down the party), through jazz and blues, classic rock, alternative, dance, and all the way to hip hop, this is a mere snapshot into the world of alcohol-inspired songs.

Now I’m not for one second going to say that all these songs are good – some are seriously terrible – but there should be at least one song in there for everyone, whether your drink of choice is a Mint Julep, whiskey in the jar, or a lager, lager, lager, lager.

So while you drink a whisky drink, and drink a vodka drink, and drink a lager drink, and drink a cider drink, sing these songs that remind you of the good times.

A boozy playlist

40 Oz. to Freedom - Sublime
Alabama Song (Whisky Bar) - The Doors
Beer - Reel Big Fish
Born Slippy - Underworld
Brass Monkey - Beastie Boys
Buy U a Drink - Trade Union ft. T-Pain
Cheers (Drink to That) - Rihanna
Cigarettes and Alcohol - Rod Stewart
Closing Time - Semisonic
Drinking in LA - Bran Van 3000
Drunk Girls - LCD Soundsystem
Finnegan’s Wake - Dropkick Murphys
Gin and Juice - Snoop Dogg
Gin House Blues - Nina Simone
Happy Hour - The Housemartins
Have a Drink on Me - AC/DC
Lived in Bars - Cat Power
One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer - John Lee Hooker
One Mint Julep - Ray Charles
Pass the Courvoisier part II - Busta Rhymes, Diddy, Pharrell Williams
Shots - LMFAO, Lil Jon
Swimming Pools (Drank) - Kendrick Lamar
Tequila - The Champs
Tequila - Terrorvision
Tipsy - J-Kwon
Too Drunk to Fuck - Nouvelle Vague
Tubthumping - Chumbawamba
Where Everybody Knows Your Name (Cheers theme!) - Gary Portnoy
Whiskey in the Jar - Thin Lizzy
Who are You - The Who

Have we missed off your favourite drinking tune? Let us know in the comments.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Gin cocktails you've never heard of, but really need to try

Looking to do something a little different with your Gordon’s? Want to tweak your Tanqueray and Tonic? Make something other than a Martini? Well you’ve come to the right place. Here’s our low-down of the best gin cocktails you’ve probably not heard of, but really need to try.

Warday’s Cocktail

Taken from the classic Savoy Cocktail Book, this drink deserves to be brought back into public consciousness.

1 Teaspoonful Chartreuse (the traditional recipe calls for green Chartreuse, but yellow would work well too)
1/3 Vermouth
1/3 Dry Gin (we like herbaceous gins to counteract the apple flavouring in the Calvados, like Sipsmith)
1/3 Calvados or Apple Brandy

Combine all ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well and strain into a cocktail glass.

Photo: Didriks (CCL)

This is basically a Negroni which swaps red vermouth for green Chartreuse. The name (the French word for ‘jewel’) is said to represent the jewels for each of the drinks’ components (diamonds for gin, rubies for red vermouth, and emeralds for the green Chartreuse).


50ml gin
25ml Green Chartreuse
50ml Martini Rosso
1 dash bitters

Stir all ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled glass.

Death in the Gulf Stream

Rumoured to be Ernest Hemingway's hangover cure. While we’re not convinced it’s the best way to treat a sore head, it’ll certainly give you one.


Peeled zest and 1 tablespoon juice from 1 lime
4 dashes Angostura bitters
1 teaspoon simple syrup (or a teaspoon of sugar will do)
100ml of gin (the traditional recipe calls for genever, but you could substitute it for a heavy-juniper gin such as Death’s Door or Langley’s No. 8)

Shake all ingredients with ice, pour into an ice-filled glass, churn, and top with more ice.

Monkey Gland
Photo: ChodHound (CCL)
This one is hard not to like – even by those who aren’t big gin drinkers. First created in the 1920s, it’s said to be named after a medical procedure from the time involving male genitalia and, erm, monkeys.


5 parts gin
5 parts fresh orange juice
1 part grenadine
1 dash absinthe

Combine gin, orange juice, grenadine, and absinthe in a cocktail shaker filled with ice; shake vigorously and strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with an orange twist.

Suffering Bastard

Originally named the ‘Suffering Bar Steward’ after the poor, hungover chap who invented it, this is a beauty of a drink which, with the healing powers of limes and ginger, will melt away any suffering.


2 parts bourbon
2 parts gin
2 parts ginger ale
1 part lime juice
2 dashes bitters

Add the bourbon, gin, lime and bitters to an ice-filled glass, and top with ginger ale.