Monday, 26 June 2017

Gin & Tonic can chicken recipe

The perfect Roast Chicken is a tough thing to master. My old man always cooks a chicken upside down, which kept the breasts and rest of the meat nice and moist compared to a bird traditionally roasted on its back with legs akinder, but this was at the expense of crispy chicken skin. Mmmmmmmm…. Crispy Chicken Skin. Bear with me, this piece is going to be full of innuendo…

I love Beer Can Chicken; a fun-yet-unorthodox way of roasting a bird stood up with a can of beer shoved up its bum. It’s great to watch in the oven too, and I can’t help but giggle uncontrolably. I always imagine it doing an imaginary chicken dance.

Today I’m going to try something different. I went to a BBQ at the weekend, and someone had bought those ‘Gin & Tonic’-in-a-can things. Basically lazy G&Ts for those who don’t know their ratios of gin to tonic. It was surprisingly good, and all I needed to add was loads of ice and a slice of lime. Perfect.

This got me thinking, with the sweet bitterness of the tonic, and the citrus from the lime, what would happen if we shoved a can of gin and tonic up a bird's bum. Would I enjoy it…?

The result was spectacular; crispy, perfectly salty skin all the way around, evenly cooked, and damn clucking tasty. The sweetness from the tonic and the elderflower came through, and my bird was moist throughout. Excellent!

So, here’s my recipe for a G&T Can Chicken:

2 x cans of G&T. I used the one Gordon’s do with a hint of elderflower.
1 x medium chicken. Always choose free range.
Sea salt
Cracked black pepper
1 x teaspoon smoked paprika

Untie your bird so it’s free of restraints and unfold its legs. Rub your bird with a tablespoon of olive oil, then with some cracked black pepper, sea salt and smoked paprika.

Spread the legs and insert the can into the cavity. It should slip in fairly easily. Stand the bird up on the can and position the two legs to stabilise it.

Pop it in the oven at 180 degrees Celsius for 80minutes, or until juices run clear and the skin is crispy.

I served mine with some lightly-dressed watercress, homemade wedges, and a bucket of G&T cans.

This recipe would work equally well with some of the other ready-made spirit mixers in a can. Why not try:

Jack Daniels & Coke can chicken: Give it a Southern spin and rub it with a simple BBQ rub – Soft brown sugar, paprika, cayenne pepper and salt.

Malibu & Coke can chicken – A taste of the Caribbean. Make a jerk marinade for your bird and serve with rice n peas.

You can pick up the cans from any supermarket and most off-licences!

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