Tuesday, 15 December 2020

Meet the Winemaker: Brendan and Laura from Unico Zelo


As we reach the end of what has been a fairly traumatic year for people all around the world. In the world of wine there are many challenges that the industry had faced during this ”annus horribilis”: climate change, severe weather events, choppy international trading environments (understatement alert!), bullying and sexism, the impacts of COVID-19, to name but a few. However, it does feel right to look for some positives amidst this gloomy outlook. I’m a born optimist you see…! One of the main ones for me has been the sudden innovation in thinking around how wineries and producers can communicate with the external world. There has been a rush in new thinking in this space and initiatives have kicked off all over the world - from the prevalence of “Instagram-live” events where producers can talk directly to their market (big shout out at this point to Brad @winetimelondon who is doing this par excellence over on Instagram each weekday evening - check him out if you haven't seen it!); to virtual wine tastings and virtual winery visits - where you can have all the fun of experiencing the products of a winery and meeting the producers, experienced from the comfort of your own home. 
Nothing will replace the true joy of standing in a vineyard and directly experiencing the relief of the land, feel the texture of the soils; but as we start to appreciate the impact of international travel on our carbon footprint and the fact that trips abroad can't be accessed by many people, it does feel that these virtual experiences can help bring us closer as consumers to producers and appreciate their product without the time-, and resource-hungry, travelling. 
These themes of innovation and sustainability-focus are all brought together in the latest on our series of Aussie “meet the winemaker” series. I spent a very pleasant couple of hours last weekend with Brendan and Laura Carter of Aussie winery “Unico Zelo”. (You can check out my piece on one of other “meet the winemaker” sessions with Oliver’s Taranga here).  
Unico Zelo is a winery located in south Australia, near Adelaide and is an endeavour that they built from scratch, which is incredibly impressive when you consider what they have achieved. They produce fantastic wines, at accessible price points, in a way that leaves minimal impact on the environment. On the neck of each of their wines, Brendan and Laura emblazen their philosophy - “from the land we belong to” - and this very much speaks to the approach they take with their wine. Brendan explained this to us by saying that he tries to marry the concept of planting grapes that are perfectly suited to the environment that they find themselves in with low-intervention wine-making styles. The two concepts are very much symbiotic, Brendan says, as you can only have minimal intervention wine-making if you select grape varieties that perfectly suit the environment that you are working in. 
It is precisely this point that marks Brendan and Laura out as trailblazers; they acknowledge that there are exceptional sites for production of those grape varieties that did a great deal in putting Australia on the wine-map: Shiraz and Chardonnay. However, and they are extremely passionate throughout our discussion about this, they believe that most of Australia’s wine-growing areas are not sited in places which are suited to production of these varieties. Brendan and Laura looked at the areas around Adelaide Hills and Clare Valley where they source their grapes from and saw that the biggest challenge that they were going to face is that these areas experience drought conditions frequently and that the cost of water had been steadily rising over the recent years. As such, they concluded that they should not be looking to those grape varieties like Shiraz and Chardonnay, who hail from the comparatively wet regions of the Rhône Valley and Burgundy (respectively); instead, they felt that they should be looking at planting grapes that are more suited to their environment - and looked to Italian grape varieties. Their zeal on this point is verging on the fervent - and they are earnest on their mission of passing this message on to winemakers in their surrounding area - with varying levels of success. This is remarkable when you think about it - they are trying to help their competitors see that they need to adapt to survive. Just one of the many remarkable things about Brendan and Laura.

Unico Zelo’s wines

I tried three of their wines, which I purchased from All About Wines (the prices quoted are from their website) who have a good supply of Unico Zelo’s offering.
I started with their 2019 “Jade and Jasper” Fiano [£15.99] (UZ make several different Fiano) which had a lovely rich, vibrant colour in the glass. On the nose it was Quite rich and aromatic, I found it very expressive. On tasting, it was  bright and crisp with a crunchy green apple kind of vibe going on. I felt the wine was very clean and fresh, with a rather zippy acidity giving the wine a fairly electric profile.


Next up was a 2018 “Cherry Fields” Dolcetto [£15.99] produced in Clare Valley (a little further north than Adelaide Hills and somewhat renowned for Riesling). Interestingly Brendan told us that a very well-known Australian wine producer used to own the site that they get the grapes from but felt that they couldn’t make it work, which gives weight to Brendan’s idea that they were using the wrong grapes. They have opted instead for Dolcetto, a grape renowned for its usage in the wines of Piedmont. On the nose this was a little bit smoky, but was redolent of ripe, bright red fruits - it smelled so inviting! On tasting, it was very balanced, notable levels of acidity, but rich with dark cherry notes. I found this wine to be very approachable, not in a bad way - purely in an “this is a very pleasant wine to drink” kind of way!


My last wine was a 2019 ”Truffle Hound“ Barbera, Nebbiolo blend [£15.99], also produced in Clare Valley. In the glass this felt richer and darker than the Dolcetto, the fruits were move black fruit than red fruit. On the palate it was concentrated and intense, there were some quite deep notes at the outset, but on the mid-palate I felt that you got a nice sweep of acidity that provided some good balance to the wine. 
You’ll notice that all of the wines retail in the UK for the same price. Again this is deliberate from Brendan and Laura - they say that they aim to make approachable wines, at price points that are also approachable. They know and respect those producers who make ”crafted” wines that generate expensive price tags and become collectors’ items, but that’s not what they got into the game for. They got into the game to promote their ethos and to make great wine sustainably in a way that means that people in 50 to 100 years can also make this wine. Sustainability is an absolute cornerstone of the Unico Zelo story. Brendan and Laura are keen to point out that this isn’t with a hippy, tree-hugger, mindset - instead it is with a business hat on. After all, if something isn’t sustainable, then it is unsustainable, and that is not great for a business model.


Brendan in Decanter for his
“Wine for the People” show

Over these last few months, Brendan has become somewhat of an international COVID superstar (indeed, some of you may have seen that Brendan was featured in the January edition of Decanter on this). He started doing a series of live-streamed, wine-related video content. Brendan told us that he started doing this because he felt a need to remain in connection with people when COVID-restrictions meant that they couldn’t do this in the normal ways. In particular, he was keen to find a way to replace the social element of people finishing up their work and heading for a drink with their mates. So how have they gone about doing this? Brendan launched a series called “Wine for the People”, a purposefully social, irreverent take on wine and friendship. This has featured inspired broadcasts on subjects like “shit wine inventions” that you get sent by relatives when they know you’re a wine lover, and looking for wine matches with all the different flavours of Pringles. Seriously. It’s fun, it’s a little silly, it’s what we all needed in 2020.
Many thanks to Brett Jones (@austwinetasting on Twitter) and Ollie Farquharson (@ollieozwineuk) for setting this up, and of course huge thanks to Brendan and Laura for giving up their time to spend a couple of hours with us. It was a thoroughly enjoyable conversation and truly inspiring. With innovative and forward-thinking individuals like them in the wind industry, I have every hope that it will be able to survive the tumultuous events we are currently experiencing. 

Wednesday, 11 November 2020

Wine-influenced gin with Chapel Down’s gin

Two of the great loves in my life are wine and gin. I was really excited then when I recently received as a gift two bottles of gin from a distillery run by giants of the English wine scene - Chapel Down. Chapel Down have been experiment with their product line for a little while now. Their beer “Curious Brew” is really worth looking out for - it features on the drinks list of some pretty great restaurants, particularly a couple of high-end Indian restaurants that I have been to.

So, when I received these two bottles of gin I was intrigued. I was ever more interested when I looked at the bottles and saw that the two bottles had been made by distilling the grape skins of two of the grapes that they use for their wines - Bacchus and Pinot Noir; the idea being that the spirit created would take on some of the characteristics of the grapes that were used in the base spirit. Interesting… my inner wine geek is curious - time to make a taste test!  

Bacchus Gin


I started with the Bacchus. Bacchus is a Germanic grape that many people feel that the climatic conditions in England could lead to this becoming the preeminent grape for still white wines. It tends to display gooseberry and elderflower notes; with a very high, rapier-like, acidity which gives it bite and freshness. In their gin Chapel Down distilled the base spirit with botanicals of coriander, elderflower, lavender and orange peel (amongst others). Neat in the glass, I could tell that this was a very aromatic gin - on the nose I got a little hint of that coriander spice, along with the more expected citrus notes. 


I made this into a gin and tonic with an 100ml serving of Schweppes Signature Collection tonic water and added a garnish of lemon peel. This made for a very fresh and clean GnT, which really picked out those lemon / citrus notes. I also thought that I got a bit of those elderflower notes that I was expecting from the Bacchus influence and the botanicals. 


To experiment a bit further, I made a Gin Martini with the Bacchus gin - which is probably my all time favourite cocktail. I love it because it is both simple (only two ingredients) and complex (because you can play with it so much and I am quite particular as to how I like it!). Here is the recipe that I followed:


70ml Chapel Down Bacchus Gin

20ml vermouth (I used Sacred English Dry Vermouth)

Stirred not shaken*

Garnish - twist of lemon


I am not one of those people who only puts a hint of vermouth in their martinis, or who just uses it “to coat the ice”; I like to taste the influence of the vermouth in the martini - and when you have an award-winning, highly-crafted product from someone who know what they are doing, why wouldn’t you want to taste it?! This was an excellent Gin Martini, I really think that the aromatic flavours from the gin came through nicely and complemented the twist of lemon. 

because James Bond is an idiot and doesn’t know how to make cocktails.

Pinot Noir Gin


I probably don’t need to introduce Pinot Noir too much, but worth noting that it is one of the four grapes that goes into Chapel Down’s Sparkling Brut - in fact it currently makes up 42% of the blend (some of you may be thinking “four grapes? What’s the fourth grape?” Good question - there is 5% Pinot Blanc in the Brut). The gin is infused with botanicals of coriander, dried red berries, Angelica root, citrus fruits, rosehip and rosebuds. The first thing that you notice about the gin is that it does have a slightly rose colour to it in the bottle. On smelling it you really do notice a different flavour profile - this is more floral, it as a kind of prettiness that reminded me of a rose blooming away happily in June. I thought I detected some red fruit notes of strawberries and red cherries, but I wondered if I was looking for that because I knew of the PN influence and the botanicals. 


I made this into a Gin and Tonic using the same measure of tonic as in the Bacchus, but I added a different garnish, this time frozen strawberrries, in order to bring out those aromatics. This drink really gives you a lovely, lush and fruity GnT - but those floral notes are still there too. I really enjoyed this. Whereas the Bacchus was a classic, summery GnT; this felt a little more autumnal - which is quite appropriate right about now!


To play with this gin, I went in a different direction and to my other gin-cocktail-favourite: the Negroni! I figured that the red berry notes would make for a good accompaniment to those bitter Campari flavours. Negronis are really simple to make, I used the following:


30ml Chapel Down Pinot Noir Gin

30ml Campari

30ml Asterley Brothers Dispense Amaro 


This made for a really rather excellent negroni, I was very pleased with my hunch that this would go well.


So there you have it, two really excellent and interesting gins that would make the perfect gift for the wine lover in your life, or a nice addition to your own selection. Both bottles can be bought from the Chapel Down shop for £35/bottle, but they are doing an offer on two as a pack for £60.

Thursday, 1 October 2020

A forward-thinking whisky: Nc'nean

For those of you who've been following this blog for a while, you may remember reading a post that I wrote last year about the launch of a new distillery in Scotland called Nc'nean (I wrote about this experience and where their unusual name came from, so I won't cover that again in this piece). They launched with the release of a set of unique "botanical spirits", which were designed to act as a precursor the whisky that they were hoping to release this year (you can still buy a bottle of their botanical spirit on Master of Malt for £24.95). Well, fast-forward a year (and the less said about that year the better...) and it is time for Nc'nean to unveil their whisky to the world. It seemed somehow appropriate that whereas the botanical spirit was launched at a glitzy event in 2019 at a private members' club, the whisky was launched in 2020 in a virtual tasting over Zoom!

It says a lot about Nc'nean and their CEO, Annabel Thomas, that despite all of the difficulties that 2020 has thrown at them - they have been able to achieve so much. They opted to sell the first 10 bottles of their whisky through an auction to raise money for charities - knowing that first bottles are often valued highly amongst collectors. They weren't wrong. The 10 bottles raised a record £92,000 for charity, with the first bottle going for an incredible £40,000 (you can read more about this story here)!

If that were not impressive enough, Nc'Nean has continued its voyage of sustainability - which is a concept at the very centre of its brand. Annabel told us with great pride that they had been successful in working with a supplier to bottle their whisky in 100% recycled, clear glass which requires no virgin sand in its production and reduces its carbon footprint by 40%. Furthermore, Annabel said that Nc'nean are considering a programme whereby people can return their used bottles to the distillery for refilling. Very impressive stuff! In addition, Nc'nean have made great progress on their aims for zero waste to landfill (in 2019 they achieved 99.9% waste being recycled) and efforts to solely power their distillery from sustainable energy sources. You can read more about their sustainability initiatives here.  

The Whisky!

I'm sure some of you are thinking, "this is all well and good, but what about the whisky? What was that like?!". 

Well, to launch their whisky, Annabel was joined on the call by Dave Broom - a noted whisky expert who writes at The Whisky Manual, and took us through the tasting. We started off by sampling the whisky - which sits a pretty gold in the glass - neat. On the nose it is quite heady with some spicy notes at first that are gradually replaced with softer fruity notes. There are some slightly sweet vanilla flavours there too. On the palate the first thing I wrote down was "beautiful!"; it was really open and warm, with slightly sweet and fruity with stone fruit notes (peach and apricot) which is then subsumed with a bit of warmth and spice. The really impressive thing with this whisky was just how complex and developed it was for a whisky only three years old.

You can buy Nc'nean's whisky from £47.95 (without the option of buying a cardboard container - which they offer to reduce packaging) from their website. Their first batches sold out very quickly, but they are currently taking orders for their October bottling - I'm certainly going to be placing an order!  

The "Whisky Six"

Whisky Six Nc'nean

Photo taken from the Nc'nean website
After this Dave took us through an alternative way of enjoying the whisky - a "Whisky Six", which is a highball serve that is used for single malt whiskies. According to Dave this was a very popular way of enjoying whisky as a long drink from the nineteenth century that has latterly fallen out of fashion, but is a method that Dave very much enjoys. The recipe that Dave and Nc'nean suggest is as follows:
  • Two parts Nc'nean whisky (50ml)
  • Four parts soda water (100ml)
  • Chunks of ice
  • Garnish of mint  

The result is a nice and refreshing drink, which is complemented by the mint. The aim of the drink isn't to mask or hide the whisky, but to enhance it. Annabel spoke about wanting to showcase her whisky in this way in order to make sure that a wide and diverse group can appreciate the drink. This is another area that is at the heart of the Nc'nean project, embracing gender diversity - Annabel leads a team of 10, seven of whom are female; something which is not typical of your average whisky distillery!

I would like to thank Annabel and the team at Full Fat for inviting me to attend this virtual launch - it was a great experience! I shall be following carefully Nc'nean's development over the next few years. To my mind anything that promotes a more sustainable and more inclusive world can only be a good thing - if that thing is also a whisky then even better! 

Disclaimer: I was sent the whisky as a sample. The opinions contained in this article are nevertheless my own.  

Wednesday, 16 September 2020

Discovering Oliver’s Taranga

One of the unexpected developments during 2020 has been the wide-spread adoption of video conferencing across the world. This has given rise to all kinds of innovation and creativity within the wine trade. I have experienced this in the form of virtual wine tastings and wine seminars that have helped to fill some of the void of those events and wine travels that we would normally go to, but are unable to due to the “current climate” (no more needs to be said here!).  

I have been lucky to have been included in an awesome initiative that has been started by Aussie wine legend Brett Jones who is a big deal on social media under the handle @AustWineTasting and UK-based wine merchant Oliver (Ollie) Farquharson, who specialises in distributing Aussie wines from his business Helver Wines. Brett and Ollie hit on the genius idea of promoting the wine of people who they know and respect through hosting Zoom calls with these producers and a group of UK-based wine lovers, myself included. The aim of these sessions is to allow us to get to know the people behind these wines, to ask them questions and to chat generally about matters ranging from the impacts of COVID-19 on the wine trade to our collective hatred of the “clean wine” movement. We all buy at least a bottle of the producers’ wines, from a local indie wine merchant - also doing our bit to keep the wine trade going. Over the last few months we have had memorable sessions with Dowie Doole (who do an amazing sparkling Shiraz) and Santolin (whose Chardonnay is next level good!). However, for our last session with Corrina Wright from McLaren Vale’s Oliver’s Taranga, I hit on the idea to gather a few of us on the call together to hold a socially-distanced wine tasting session for the call. That way we could taste a greater selection of the wines. It was with great joy that I welcomed Lee, James, Peter and Carrie to my house and we got set up for the call (plus Serena who joined us from Cyprus as you do!).


Before, I talk about the wines - a bit of information about Oliver’s Taranga. The vineyard was planted in the nineteenth century and gets its name from “Oliver” which is Corrina Wright’s (the boss) family name (they were originally from Scotland but emigrated in the nineteenth century) and “Taranga” which is the aboriginal name for the site and means “crossing point”. Until the 1980s the vineyard grew grapes which it sold to neighbouring wineries - these weren’t just any wineries though, they included Penfold’s and D’Arenberg - so you can tell that they knew what they were doing. Corrina then persuaded her father to let her start selling wines under her own label and this is where Oliver’s Taranga wines came from. When you look at their selection, whilst there are familiar grapes on their range (Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, etc.), what is immediately notable is the inclusion of lesser known grape varietals for the Maclaren Vale region such as Fiano, Tempranillo and Sagrantino. Corrina explained that this was a mix of wanting to do something different and looking to future-proof the vineyard against climate change. In particular, she was looking to Italy and Spain to find grapes that flourish in drier/drought conditions, something that is an increasing issue in the region.

So, onto the wines - what did we try…?

We started with their 2020 Fiano (we of course remarked on how this vintage will be viewed in a few years’ time, consensus was that it will be infamous). On the nose it had nice green apple and slight stone fruit (peach / nectarine) notes. James noted that he thought it had the slightest hint of white pepper, reminiscent of a Grüner Veltliner. On the mouth this was delicious and fresh with a really vibrant acidity that gave it a zippiness. It was though, really nicely balanced, in that it doesn’t have an ascerbic / tart after taste that burns the mouth, instead the juiciness is what lingers. A really pleasing wine - good with food, but equally good to drink on its own on a summer’s afternoon. Available for £16/bottle.      


Next up we had the 2017 Tempranillo (better known as the grape that is used to make Rioja). This was a really pleasing wine, with lots of quite pretty flowery notes to it, to match. There are some fruity flavours in this wine, more on the dark side, but there is also quite a nice savoury element to this making it a decent wine to have with some food. Obviously given the Spanish connection, I’m thinking some nice tapas (chorizo and padron peppers - yum!!). Available for £18.99/bottle (2018 vintage now)


After this we had a couple of Shirazes, young and old which allowed us to do some comparisons. 


First was the 2017 Shiraz, which we all remarked was an immensely impressive wine. We hadn’t decanted it, but it already had a presence and a maturity that belied its relative youth. Its tannins had already softened and we were really bowled over by the depth of the wine. The dark fruits that you would expect were there: blueberries, plums and blackcurrants come to mind, but there was already an impressive breadth to the wine, we were getting those deeper notes of coffee and dark chocolate. A big hitter, indeed! Available for £17.50/bottle.


We compared this against a 2004 Shiraz (which was under cork), which we did decant. As expected with a wine of increased years on it, this had got some tertiary development on the wine with more smoky, savoury, meaty flavours coming through. That’s not to say that all the fruit was gone however, with those characteristic dark fruits (black cherries, blackberries) coming through. The 2004 is ridiculous value for a wine of this quality, but we were also really impressed with the 2017. I think I may be purchasing a few more of these in order to see how it develops over the next couple of years. Available for £23/bottle.


The last wine we tried was a new grape for me, their 2014 Sagrantino. Sagrantino, as you can probably tell, is an Italian grape that is known for being the most tannic grape varieties in the world. I hadn’t tried it before from Italy but was looking forward to trying this example. The wine had a tremendous power to it, with a lovely brooding nature. It had all the dark aromas that you would want - dark fruit and a chocolate / cocoa profile to the wine, but I also thought it had a nice floral note to it too. On tasting, yes the tannins were there, but they had already softened nicely to my taste. It left the wine with quite a rich and opulent mouth-feel. Definitely a good wine to have with some as expensive a cut of sirloin that you can get. Available for £24.99/bottle.


All wine prices are quoted from Wanderlust wines who stock Oliver’s Taranga wines in the UK. 


I’d like to say a huge thank you to Corrina for taking the time to talk to us, and to Brett and Ollie for putting all of this together and organising this rag-tag bunch. Wine folk really are the best people!

Tuesday, 1 September 2020

Master of Malt launch new whisky subscription boxes: Pour & Sip


Being in and around the booze industry, we know sometimes it can be pretty inaccessible unless you’re ‘in the know’. 

Just the other day my friend was telling me how she nearly got barred from Scotland for daring to ask for a Rye whiskey in Edinburgh. She didn’t know it wasn’t from Scotland, or that it wasn’t the ‘right’ thing to ask for, and a gentle bit of education would have worked wonders.

Speaking of education, Pour & Sip has just launched. It’s a new whisky subscription service from Master of Malt, focused on community, accessibility and inclusion. 

So far so good. We like all those things.

Each month, customers get five different 30ml measures in the post, picked out by expert buyers and writers at Pour & Sip.

If you’re a new customer, you also get two tasting glasses, a ‘how to taste whisky’ card and detailed tasting notes, along with your whisky. 

The team will hold twice-monthly online tastings, giving people the chance to explore the whiskies, ask questions, and get involved. On top of that, customers will get bespoke blog content and access to exclusive discounts on full-price bottles on Master of Malt. 

The boxes are monthly, but you can pause and resume at any point. Each one will cost £29.95.

Tuesday, 4 August 2020

That Boutique-y Whisky Company’s first World Series of Whiskies: a taste of five, from Wales to India

Although we haven’t been able to go to our favourite bars for much of this year, we have still been able to get hold of lots of delicious booze to enjoy at home.

It’s certainly been a weird year in many ways, so we’d expect nothing less from That Boutique-y Whisky Company (TBWC), to shake things up a bit. While the independent bottlers would usually release bottles throughout the year (they did more than 300 last year, blimey), as and when it’s available, they’ve now made the switch to releasing at set times. 

After the success of the World Whisky Summit hosted by TBWC, the new plan is to give smaller craft distilleries a platform to reach the whisky community globally, which they might struggle with otherwise.

So say hello to the first ever TBWC World Series Collection line-up, woo, yehhhhh. This is a really fun list of whiskies, with some really interesting new world stuff. 

We’ve had our hands on five from the collection: here’s what we thought. 

Mackmyra 5 year old single malt, Sweden, 50.7% ABV 

This particular expression is a blend of 5YO whiskies from several fresh bourbon casks. Mackmyra try to be as eco-friendly as possible. All their barley is Swedish and they have a specially designed distillery which operates using gravity. Barley is loaded in on floor seven and spirit flows all the way down to the new spirit store on floor one to be filled into cask.

My tasting notes...

Nose: Gone off bananas, sour fruit, caramelised banana.

Palate: Strong alcohol! Burnt caramel, spiced, heat, mild soapiness? Cherry on the top.

Bit of water adds a starchiness, salt n shake crisps without the salt, vegetable crisps.

Finish: Dark chocolate on the finish. 100% cocoa chocolate, minus the grittiness.

Langatun 5 year old single malt, Switzerland, 51.2% ABV

This whisky is made from birchwood smoked barley. An unusual beginning you might say but, to up the mystery quota, it has been aged in a Chateauneuf du Pape cask, adding layers of red fruit notes and a deep colour. Langatun have a very long history of brewing and distillation going back to the 1850s. Hans Baumberger, great grandson of the founder, Jakob, decided to restart whisky distillation in 2007. The current owners, Christian Lauper and Dr Dolf Stockhausen have invested to meet increasing demand.

My tasting notes...

Nose: Grassy, rhum agricole, tinned fruit salad, sage, coriander root.

Palate: Liquorice, peppermint, eucalyptus, aloe vera, herbal. Water tones down the herbs and gives you more honey.

Finish: Shortish finish. Alcohol burn at the end.

Penderyn 6 year old single malt, Wales, 50.0% ABV 

TBWC's Penderyn bottling has been matured in an ex-Moscatel cask. The sweet dessert wine is produced in a similar way to PX sherry but, uses a high proportion of Moscatel de Alejandria grapes. Located in the village of Penderyn, on the southern tip of the Brecon Beacons, this distillery marked the first commercially available whisky in Wales since the 19th century.

My tasting notes...

Nose: Febreze (not in a bad way!), toffee, Werther's Original

Palate: Sweet, floral, orange, caramel, vanilla, warm cherry bakewell, glazed desserts

Finish: Candied almond

Nantou 4 year old single malt, Taiwan, 49.0% ABV

Modelled after the scotch production techniques of the 80s, with the twist of influence from a tropical environment results in classic Scotch vibes with a fruity, tropical twist. Set in the beautiful Nantou region of Taiwan, the climate is humid & subtropical, meaning (you guessed it!) a high angel’s share of 6%+!

My tasting notes...

Nose: Christmas! Almonds! Sweet candied nuts and fruits! Pretzels

Palate: Fruityyyy, white chocolate, more nutty with water.

Finish: Dry biscuit on the finish. Digestives.

Paul John, 6 year old single malt, India, 52.9% ABV 

An Indian single malt whisky distillery, located in tropical Goa, distilling with Indian 6 row barley. Packed full of tropical fruit, with a big, oily palette. This has been matured in a great bourbon barrel, interweaving delicious nutty & spicy wood notes. The tropical climate for maturation means a high angel’s share, 8-10%, as opposed to Scotland’s 2-3%…

My tasting notes...

Nose: Spicy, caramel, peshwari naan, dessicated coconut

Palate: Ashiness, wood fire that's just gone out. Rubberyness, smoky pencil eraser, sweet spice. 
Cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, warm spices, grainy toastiness, rice? Savoury sweetness, like shortbread. Burnt butter.

Finish: Long, smoky finish

Which are you most excited to try?

Wednesday, 8 July 2020

The tomato juice that made me love a Bloody Mary: Tongue in Peat

It’s happened. It’s finally happened. It took 30 bloody years… but, I enjoyed a Bloody Mary. 

This isn’t the first time I’ve tried. Oh no. I’ve tried hungover, I’ve tried sober, I’ve tried in the morning, middle of the day and the evening. I’ve gone spicy, sweeter, elaborate, simple, but nothing could make me enjoy a Bloody Mary.

Until now. 

And all it took was some peat smoke and 12 people up in Scotland. 

Tongue in Peat tomato juice has recently launched. It’s infused with peat smoke from Islay, which gives it the most delicious rich, deep, smokiness. 

How do they make it taste so good? Well, the farmer selects fresh tomatoes, which are hand chopped by chef, ensuring maximum surface area is exposed to peat fires. The smoker then uses a traditional smokehouse to infuse the tomatoes for 12 hours. The blender purees the tomatoes with spices at a small batch bottling facility, and the bottlers fill less than 5,000 bottles per batch. The labeller then checks each bottle and ships them off around the world.

It was the first time I’d ever tried a smoked tomato juice, let alone a peat smoked tomato juice. Apparently it’s the only one in existence. 

Being relatively new to the world of Bloody Marys, I thought I’d keep it simple. Using 50ml of Holy Grass Vodka, I just added salt and pepper, a squeeze of lemon juice, and garnished it with a stick of celery. Very simple and uncomplicated, but it was definitely enough. That peat packs some punch.

Next time I think I’ll be a little braver and get creative... Apparently a bit of pickle juice in there works wonders. 

What’s your go-to Bloody Mary recipe? 

Tuesday, 9 June 2020

Small but mighty wines

Small is often seen as a bad thing. No, I’m not going to go there - get your head out of the gutter; but you have “small man syndrome”, “small-minded” or Presidents with suspiciously small hands. The word small seems to convey something that is substandard or under-developed. But is small always a bad thing?

In the world of wine, small can have some positive connotations. Small-batch production, tends to represent artisanal, crafted produce that is made by someone who cares passionately about their produce and aren’t chasing the volume and scale of bigger producers. In addition, small can also come, of course, in the size of the bottle that you buy. I’m sure a lot of people are familiar with the idea of buying half bottles of wine (375ml) or even the quarter bottles that people tend to buy just before they go on a train journey (back when we did that kind of thing). But what are some of the benefits of buying half-bottles and why could this be an interesting area for wine lovers?

Well, I think there are a number of reasons. 

Firstly, in a world where people want to be careful about their consumption due to the effects of alcohol, but also the calorific impact on their diet, a half bottle can be a really good way of promoting moderation. As part of trying to have a healthy attitude towards alcohol I tend to limit myself to two mid-week nights during the week when I’ll have a glass of something nice and save my more extravagant consumption for the weekend. On these mid-week nights I find that a half-bottle is a great way of rewarding you with a nice glass or two, but without pushing the boat out too much (particularly if you have a partner who also doesn’t like to over-consume). 

Secondly, half bottles represent a nice way to explore wines that you are thinking of buying in larger formats at a reasonable price. This is the same rationale that has allowed Enomatic machines such as the ones at The Sampler to flourish, or the use of Coravin in restaurants to allow people to purchase small samples of very expensive wine - you get to see what the fuss is about and then make a decision about whether you’d pay the price for more of the wine. With halves you are usually paying either half or just over half the price of a standard bottle, which allows you to maybe trade up a bit on the quality of the wine that you are selecting. I particularly like it when restaurants have a decent selection of halves (Le Champignon Sauvage in Cheltenham is one such restaurant that has stuck in my mind - I wrote a blog on visiting there a little while ago on my other site) as this can allow you a glass of fizz at the beginning, a half with the starters, a half with the mains and a digestif; plenty of different wines to try, but not going too overboard on the consumption (or price) side. 

I think these reasons are summarised in the maxim that I personally try and extol as often as I can: “drink less, but better”. Drinking should be about enjoyment and satisfaction, but this needs to come with a healthy approach towards moderation. Spending a bit more money on the wine that you drink, but then drinking less of it is I think the right approach and one that can help contribute to living a healthy and happy life.

So, I’ve extolled the virtues of half bottles of wine. Where would I recommend going to get some if you were interested? There are two main suppliers that I would immediately recommend.

The Little Fine Wine Company

I’ll start with The Little Fine Wine Company. This is a company that was specifically set up to promote the sale of half bottles of wine, although they do stock some standard sized bottles and some magnums. However, their main offering is certainly on the half bottles. They have a great range of wines covering most bases from old world to new world, dry to sweet and fortified. The prices range from £7.50 halves all the way to £74.95 for a half of 2014 Domaine Faiveley Grand Cru Clos des Cortons. 

I recently bought a selection of their wines, which I am looking forward to working my way through, but I have already tried a couple of them. Starting with a Nyetimber Classic Cuvée (NV) (price £18.95) which I opened as part of a breakfast celebration for my wife’s birthday recently. We had a whole day of imbibing ahead of us, so I felt that a whole bottle for breakfast would have been a bit too much and this half was perfect. Really did start the day in just the manner that I wanted. 

 In addition, I also opened a half of Kumeu River’s 2017 Coddington Chardonnay (price £15.95). I’m a big fan of Kumeu River’s wines and in particular their Chardonnays - this was showing very nicely under screwcap with the wine already having a lot of butteriness an richness to it. It had a really quite luscious profile both on the nose and on the palate. I served this with some nice mushroom orzo during the week and with my wife only really after a snifter, the half bottle was a perfect size.

Lastly, being summer-time I needed to have some rosé! A half of 2019 Whispering Angel from Provence (price £10.95) was just what I was looking for. The wine itself is quite fresh with some cranberry notes and raspberries. There was great acidity to the wine, which was rounded off with some breadth to the palate, giving it a nice balance. I really enjoyed the nose though, which I felt had an almost strawberry and cream nose - if there’s ever going to be something that screams summer then it’s a rosé that has strawberries and cream aromas!

The Wine Society 

Another merchant that I’d recommend in the sphere of halves is The Wine Society. They also have a great selection, their halves start at £4.50 and you can get many halves of their excellent Exhibition Range wines for under a tenner. Their half range goes up to the heady heights of £295 with a half of a 2001 Chateau Yquem - that’s quite the range of prices there! 

I’ve had a few halves over the years from The Wine Society, but I recently opened a bottle of 2015 Trimbach Riesling (photo towards the top of this page) which was absolutely fantastic: laser-like precision to it with bags of flavour and personality. A great food wine as pretty much all Alsatian Riesling is. Unfortunately I don’t think the Wine Society is stocking any halves of this any more but the full bottle of the 2017 Riesling costs £18.50 (this on their list but currently out of stock). 

Another great reason to open half bottles, is dessert wines. In a household of two, we aren’t really ever going to knock off a whole bottle of sweeter wine in one sitting. So for whole bottles, the Coravin comes in very useful, but so does buying halves of sweet wines. I recently opened a half bottle of the Society's 2015 Sauternes (£10.95), which was not quite golden in the glass, but had a nice rich yellow hue to it. On the nose it had typical Sauternes notes of marmalade and honey, accompanied by fruity aromas of mandarin and a bit of mango too. I would class it as pretty, if not hugely complex. On the mouth it was pleasingly sweet, but with a great big acidic sweep that balances out the sweetness. This is not a big, bold wine like a Beerenauslese or a Trockenbeerenauslese, but is quite perfumed and delicate. I think this would go very nicely with cheese or some lighter desserts. 

What do you make of half-bottles? Do you buy them, would you? If not, why not? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, 14 May 2020

#seriouswinesforaserioustime with Tim and James

The word “unprecedented” really has peaked in 2020. Pretty much all emails I receive seem to contain this word in at some point, but it’s hard to disagree really. We do, indeed, find ourselves in a time when things that we used to take for granted can’t be done and many people have had to get used to a completely way of life. In my last post I encouraged you all to do what you can to support small, local businesses as they really are finding things tough right now. But I appreciate that this isn’t possible for everyone, with many people being furloughed or needing to spend their time or resources caring for loved ones.

Against such a seemingly bleak backdrop what can we do here at Vinspire? 

We think that it is important that we continue to give you some levity and vicarious pleasure as we write about things that make us happy - and opening a bottle of wine is just one of those things that seems to bring joy amongst the wine-loving community. Over on Twitter a number of folk (myself included) have been encouraging people to use the lockdown time as an excuse to open a nice bottle of wine and treat themselves. After all, when times are bleak treating yourself can be a nice reward for a hard day battling with homeschooling or interminable Zoom conference calls. We have settled on a hashtag which I think encapsulates this perfectly: 


In this article today, I am collaborating with a Twitter must-follow for anyone with a passing interest in wine - James Hubbard (@jameshubbard113). James has a seemingly endless supply of incredible wine in his cellar, so much so that some people (looking at you, Lee!) have labelled James' wine cellar as “the wine tardis”!

The below are a selection of the highlights that James and I have been sampling over the last few weeks as we look to brighten the gloom with a decent bottle or two.

The Wines

Tim: For Good Friday, the UK-based wine community came together and celebrated English (and Welsh) sparkling wine with the Good Friday English Wine celebration - basically an opportunity to open a bottle of some of the lovely wine that are now getting the recognition that they deserve for quality from around the world. I decided to stay classic and to open a bottle of 2016 Camel Valley “Annie’s Anniversary” Brut which I purchased when I went to visit the vineyard last September for my wedding anniversary. This is a classic champagne-blend wine and has lovely freshness and zip to it, with loads of tropical fruit notes that helped it to sing. This is a great wine, but look out for their rosé too - that really is top-notch!

Tim: One of the most famous white wines in the world is the 2006 Viña Tondonia Gran Reserva Blanco from López de Heredia in Rioja. I treated myself to a case of 2006s at the end of last year and I am keen to see how they evolve over time, but in order to do that I had to open one recently to give it a good try - poor me. This is a really interesting wine as it has an oxidative element to it, something that contributes to that vivid colour in the glass. The nose, however, is all sweetness and light with a pretty floral element to it, which I found very evocative. On tasting, it has a breadth and richness to it that made it a great match for some pancetta-wrapped pork tenderloin that I had cooked with a creamy sauce. The finish was rather complex and had fantastic length. A bit of a thinker of a wine. Look forward to coming back to the rest of these over the coming years!

James: I’ve always loved Trimbach wines, I simply cannot recall a time when I had a bad bottle. This was the first time I had tried this particular offering (2015 Trimbach ‘Selection de Vieilles Vignes’ Riesling), purchased a while back from The Wine Society. A smorgasbord of citrus fruits alongside mandarins and peach, with a smattering of Grüner-style white pepper thrown in for good measure. This was thirst-slaking and utterly irresistible. A wine to put a smile on the face - just joyously delicious!

Tim: Next on my list was a Burgundy from a producer who hails from nearby me in London, Le Grappin’s 2017 “Boucherottes” Beaune Premier Cru. I only had one bottle of this and I was um-ing and ah-ing about whether to open this bottle yet, surely it would be better to wait a few more years on this? I opted not to and to get stuck in for a number of reasons, firstly there are plenty of times when people have held on to a bottle of wine for ages only to find that when they finally open it that it is corked, secondly the whole spirit of #seriouswinesforaserioustime is to encourage people to live for the moment and enjoy that bottle now as you don’t know what’s round the corner! The wine was a joy to drink, pure unadulterated fun with loads of fruit flavours and tannins that are already well ntegrated into the wine. Will this improve with age? Absolutely. I’d love to have a case of this and come back to some of these in 2027 when it will really be singing; do I regret opening it now? Definitely not!

James: This 2017 Sailor Seeks Horse Pinot Noir is a new discovery for me courtesy of The Vinorium. Stuart McCloskey raved about them when I met him at one of their tastings, so I decided to give it a go. I was not disappointed! Tasmania really is cranking out some world-class Pinot. This one is incredibly delicate and aromatic, Burgundy meets Oregon. A lightness of touch but not a light wine. The relative youth meant it needed a bit of time in glass to show off the gorgeous redcurrant and strawberry notes, and as it slowly unfurled I was surprised by how much else came through on the nose including damsons, marmalade and smoked meat. I have a couple more bottles which i am going to try to resist for a few years to see how this continues to mature.

Tim: I wanted something a few weeks ago to go alongside my Sunday roast beef and I was just looking towards the claret selection on my rack when a bottle of 2000 Chateau Musar (from Lebanon) caught my eye. I opted for this and was delighted to do so. Musar’s flagship wine is a combination of international (French) grapes such as Cinsault and Carignan, combined with local Lebanese varietals. The result is a wine of tremendous character and depth. It benefitted from a bit of time in a decanter before serving but was then full of fruit notes, combined with deeper more savoury tastes (dark chocolate and mushroom) as you would expect from a wine with 20 years behind it. This wine has plenty more time on its side, which is all the more impressive when you can pick this up for £30/bottle, for which you would struggle to get such an enjoyable drinking experience from Bordeaux. Get hold of some while you can!

James: The 2012 Boekenhoutskloof Syrah is from one of my favourite South African wineries - Marc Kent and his team have been smashing it out of the park for quite a while now. The attention to detail and pursuit of excellence is on show here for sure. This 2012 Syrah is just entering its (long) drinking window. Rich, pure black fruits underpinned by five spice and pepper. Hermitage-esque levels of complexity. So refined and balanced. Old World style meets New World freshness.





There you have it - some truly wonderful bottles opened as a tribute to Bacchus and to help us pass the time until all of this madness is over.

Have you been opening anything special recently? Let us know in the comments below!

Monday, 20 April 2020

Vinspire recommends wine books to get you through self-isolation

Photo taken under CCL from spiralcellars.co.uk

Hi all

We haven’t published a blog on here in a little while and, well, things have certainly changed quite a lot haven’t they?! Things that we took for granted two months ago like going to the supermarket or popping to your local pub or restaurant to grab a glass of wine or something to eat are now things that we can’t currently do. The effect of this crisis on our beloved wine and spirits trade is truly difficult and we know that many small business are having to make some very difficult decisions with huge uncertainty about when things will recover.

However, as ever, things aren’t all doom and gloom. Many of our incredible independent wine merchants have slipped smoothly into doing online wine deliveries, which means that as a wine lover you can be a bloomin’ hero by ordering wine from them - you’re supporting a business you care about and you are getting some lovely wine to enjoy at home: winner winner chicken dinner! We at Vinspire would urge you (if you can) to spend some of that money that you’re not spending by going out / eating out and ordering from local, independent stores. After all, if you want them to still exist when all of this is finished you need to support them now!

With that being said, time for the main point of this article. The temptation in these unusual times is to find yourself spending a LOT of time reading up about the news on news sites or on social media and I have (personally) found that this can get a little overwhelming. To counter this I have been trying to use some of the evening time to get some reading done and I thought that I would share with you a couple of wine-related books that I have read recently and would recommend for wine lovers.

“The Wines of Germany” - Anne Krebiehl MW

Had to place this book next to a bottle of Riesling!

The first book is Anne Krebiehl’s book “The Wines if Germany”, which although only recently published is already considered by many to be the definitive work on German wines. This authoritative work starts off by covering the history of German wine, which is, naturally, intertwined with the fascinating history of Germany from Roman times, through the Holy Roman Empire, the Protestant/Catholic wars of the 17th centry, Napoleon’s invasion, the formation of Germany as a nation-state in the late nineteenth century, to the horrifying events of the 20th century. After charting this in an admirably succinct fashion, Krebiehl then takes on the not-particularly-easy task of trying to explain the complexities of German wine law and regulations and put some sense on the Prädikat system, which I think she does a great job of. There then follow a number of small chapters focussing on some of Germany’s best known wines/grapes: Riesling (of course), Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) and Sekt. It is worth noting that Krebiehl devotes time to other wines/grapes (e.g. Silvaner, Frühburgunder) throughout the book at pertinent points, but they don’t get their own chapters.

This is the spot I have mostly been
reading this book from!
After this introductory segment, Krebiehl proceeds to take each German wine-producing area in turn (in alphabetical order - presumably to show no favouritism!) and then presents a canter around each region highlighting some of her personal favourite producers (again in alphabetical order). It is clear from her writings that Krebiehl has studiously tasted her way around a great number of these vineyards and has personal relationships with many of the people that she is recommending. The producers that Krebiehl puts forward are a mix of legendary names that anyone with a passing knowledge of German wine would recognise (Prüm, Haag, Loosen, Molitor und so weiter, und so fort), but she also puts under the spotlight the new generation of exciting and dynamic German wine producers in their 20s and 30s who are too young to remember the dark days of 80s German wine and are now making interesting and innovative wine, embracing both the traditions that they have inherited and modern thinking around wine making. It is great to see that there are also a large number of female producers presented, something that also represents this perception of a generation that is looking forward.

There is a LOT of information in this book, but for me it really does allow one to get a feel for the contrast, variety, tradition, history and exciting potential of German wine. If you are even remotely interested in German wine then this is an absolutely essential book for you to read. However, I don’t think that this is a prerequisite for you to enjoy this book. I found it to be a thoroughly enjoyable book to read, in spite of its erudite nature. Krebiehl’s writing style is very engaging and she uses exceedingly elegant turns of phrase throughout the book - all the more impressive for someone writing in a second (or in her case, I believe a third!) language.

This book is available from The Book Depository for £35.

“Wine - A Way of Life” by Stephen Spurrier 

I’m sure Mr Spurrier would approve of me putting
his book next to a nice bottle of Meursault for this photo!
The second book that I am recommending is in many ways very different. It is Stephen Spurrier’s memoirs “Wine - A Way of Life”. For me Stephen Spurrier has been someone I have been aware of almost from the first days that I became interested in wine. I first encountered him as a contributing editor to Decanter and then I became more aware of him and learned all about the “Judgement of Paris”, a wine competition in 1978 between French and American wines that Spurrier organised, which shocked the wine world to its core as American wines beat Bordeaux at best Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot blends and beat Burdgundy when it came to making Chardonnay. Since I’ve started attending wine events I have met him a couple of times and have now also tried his wines (Bride Valley from Dorset) as he has latterly established a vineyard.

However, from reading his memoirs I have learned a lot more about Spurrier’s life. It really is a fasinacting story and is told with a wonderfully beguiling nonchalance. Throughout the book he drops references left, right and centre to incredible restaurants that he’s visited, wines he’s tasted, people he’s met (my favourite was when he found himself in a room with Jimi Hendrix in 60s London) and places that he’s visited. It’s a truly fascinating story. It must be admitted that Spurrier came from a very privileged background and has had money all his life. Having had money, though, to me gave Spurrier a rather cavalier attitude towards it - and he would be the first to admit that he was never particularly good with it. Throughout the book, the number of business ventures/investments that he enters into is astounding. However, this isn’t the case of someone bragging, Spurrier frequently admits that he invested poorly and was occasionally taken advantage of. In fact in the 80s he was on the verge of financial ruin before Decanter came to his rescue.

This is a very old-school kind of book from an old-school kind of wine chap. It has to be read through the lens of someone who grew up in the time they did, blessed with privilege. There will be some people who read this book and say that it represents everything that is wrong with the world of wine and contributes to its reputation as the stuffy domaine of rich, white men in pinstripe suits. And they may well have a point. Some of the book reads quite painfully through the eyes of 2020; many of the women referenced are characterised by their physical attractiveness, for example. However, despite this I feel that you can’t help be slightly swayed by Spurrier’s generous spirit and, ultimately, his absolute obsession with wine. Spurrier has tasted pretty much all of the important wines there are, knows all the wine royalty and was in attendance for many of the best tastings and events of the last fifty years. It is some tale and represents the important memories of someone who did so much to shape the world of wine that we enjoy today.

I do have one further gripe with this book - I found there to be an unacceptably high level of typos in the print. I very much hope this is corrected in subsequent editions, as they really spoil my enjoyment of a passage.

This book is available from Amazon for £20 (I did try and find a different retailer, but couldn’t!), however it currently seems to be out of stock... 

There you have it, a couple of books that I have really enjoyed reading that you may wish to consider during this lockdown period.

I hope this blog finds you and your families safe and well.

From all at Vinspire. X