Monday, 12 December 2016

We Don't Sell Mead...


My local Chinese Take-Away sells Chinese food.  This may seem rather an obvious thing to say, but my point is that they know their market and they stick to what they are good at doing.  You wouldn’t dream of going in there and asking whether they sell pizzas.  Based on our experience I bet someone has though!  The festive season does seem to generate some odd requests for retailers and I guess Wine Merchants cannot expect to be immune from these.  People seem to think we are the likely source of all sorts of interesting stuff...

I suppose it’s only reasonable that customers should ask, because many retailers do add to their product ranges at this time of year so unexpected items do crop up in unusual places.  After all, garden centres sell beer.  Supermarkets sell insurance and the latest statement from our bank came with a wine offer enclosed (thanks chaps...).

We always keep a mental note of requests for things we don’t stock (a) because you never know, we might be missing a trick (b) for our own amusement and (c) to give a quiet nod of approval to the most unusual request by the end of the year.

Currently the all time winner is a request, a few years ago now, for soap powder.  To this day we are still confused by that one.  There was a rather touching request for cocktail cherries from a dear old chap one Christmas who had clearly spent days scouring the town for some. They were evidently a specific request from his wife and, being an attentive husband, he was determined to find some. He struggled up our steps, wheezed his way into the shop, and popped the question.  We explained that sadly this was not a line we sold.  A good-natured “Bugger!” was his only response though we did point him to a local supermarket where we felt he may find success.  He passed the shop again on his way home giving a cheery “thumbs up” having presumably secured his prize elsewhere.

We are frequently mistaken for an Off Licence and enquiries for cold beers (in the summer) and tobacco are not uncommon.  We don’t really want to sell either.  Advocat anyone?  No... I thought not.  Yes, I know we sell olive oil, but wine and olive oil go hand in hand from the land they’re grown on and through production.  Frequently they are made by the same people, so it sort of makes sense.

Way out in front this year are three requests for mead, all in the last fortnight (so no demand outside the festive season then).  Sorry chaps, it’s a bit off our plot, try your local castle (no, seriously, it’s the sort of stuff English Heritage sell next to ye olde plastic knights helmets and the wooden arrows with the little rubber suckers on the end).  Wine is our thing you see; we love it.  Can’t get enough of it.  Would stock more lines but there isn’t room.  However, we do add a bit to our range at Christmastime, specifically with Christmas menus in mind.

We’ve already flagged up the Mourat wines (some of the Pinot Noir will hopefully be coming my way for the Christmas table) but here’s another new find which would be the perfect partner for those who prefer a fuller red with their turkey, chicken or goose.  Valpolicella Ripasso, a generous red with richness and a bit of oak nicely balanced by fresh red cherry fruit.  It’s on the website now, along with the other 450+ lines we have currently available.

I’ll finish with an account of possibly the most frustrating request we have ever had.  A chap came in the other day saying “I’ve looked at your website and can see that you have a fantastic range of over 400 wines, all individually tasted and selected by you.” (well spotted, full marks so far Sir...) “I wonder... can you get Blossom Hill?”...

Thursday, 1 December 2016

The Bathroom Wine Rack


Shower time for the short sighted needs to run on rails.  Once my specs are off I regard myself as virtually blind – especially at that time of the morning – and the stuff I need has to be in predictable places.  Sponge, shower gel, towel... This morning I found myself, wet and blind, with no shower gel.  Bugger.  So out of the shower I got, dripping water onto the bathroom floor, scrabbling around like Mr Magoo in the cabinet where further supplies are usually located.

The problem is that there are females in the house.  Daughter is away at university (and I have enjoyed seeing the resulting expanse of vacant flat surfaces in the bathroom that this has created) but much of that which would be out on display when she is in residence has been put away for safekeeping in the cupboard where the shower gel usually lives so there’s more to hunt through in there than one might expect.  I found shampoo, body butter, facial scrub, handwash (that would do wouldn’t it?) moisturiser, hand cream, conditioner, suncream, after sun... I sensed the trail going cold.  Second cupboard then; baby powder, baby lotion (er...) crème bath, bath foam, anti-perspirant, deodorant, insect repellent, bite ease... trail going cold again. 

There’s always that intriguing bar of fruit soap of course, but it’s new, unopened and seems to have been made by English Heritage. For all I know I might be earmarked as a Christmas present for someone we don’t like.   Besides, I don’t really want to go to work smelling like synthetic mulled wine...

There was only one thing left to do and that was resort to the final cupboard to where all the mini shower gels and shampoos migrate; collected from hotel and B&B stays but never actually finished.  Here there was an assortment of sponges and other body scrubbing devices but buried at the bottom was indeed a selection mini bathroom products.  Mostly shampoo and conditioner only of course, so still no joy.

Eventually I located a part-used mini shower gel which at least solved the immediate problem.  I then made sure that I put it back afterwards though so that the missus, who would surely face the same challenge in an hour or so, would automatically unearth the secret stash of shower gel which surely exists somewhere but I was unable to locate.  She’s efficient you see, so we won’t have run out, it’s just that I couldn’t find what I needed when I needed it.  Hmmm, maybe we have run out?

Domestic wine racks are like this.  You thought there was a bottle of fizz in there for Christmas morning but when you went to pop it in the fridge on Christmas Eve it wasn’t there.  Had you already drunk it?  Had you taken it to that party last month and forgotten to replace it?  And what about some decent wine?  A quick check through the rack reveals some stuff you like but don’t think it quite good enough for the occasion concerned.  Then there are the bottles that guests have brought for you which you’ve not yet been brave enough to open... Did they spend time choosing these especially for you, or were they the free bit of the latest Dine In for £10 deal which they didn’t fancy either?  There’s the better stuff at the bottom of course, but is it ready yet? Or is it already too old?  There does seem to be a growing selection of “bottles to cook with” and it’s Christmas for goodness sake.  These really won’t do!

It doesn’t have to be this way you know.  Just get organised.  Lay in some decent bottles and make sure you label them so they don’t get drunk by the rampaging hoards of returning university students... Check stocks regularly and, crucially, allow yourself the enjoyment of a really good tidy up from time to time when you can open those bottles that you think might be too old and occasionally come across one that isn’t and is really surprisingly good.  Free up space for some new acquisitions and pat yourself on the back for a job well done.  Then you’ll have what you need, when you need it.  Once you’ve done that you can chuck out all those part used jars of body butter and bath creme from the bathroom.  If you’re brave enough!

 

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Jeremie Mourat

Some of you may remember the wines of a producer called Mourat who has his vineyards in the Vendée in western France.  We have stocked them twice before and each time they have met with universal approval.  They were dumpy bottles with a stylised picture of an owl on the label and showed liveliness and freshness across the range.

Delicious as we all found them, these are actually Jeremie Mourat’s entry level wines which speak volumes for the more specialised varieties further up the scale.  We have brought in three such wines which we tasted earlier this year and simply could not resist.  They are not exactly cheap - high quality never can be - but they are worth every penny. 

Jeremie Mourat

Jeremie clearly has something of a gift; not only is he a fine, non-interventionist winemaker, but he knows his vineyards in their considerable variety and matches the differences in geology and micro-climate to the right grape.  His methodology is beautifully natural; the best winemakers work with nature, guiding and monitoring the processes rather than trying to force the pace.  Respecting the fruit and encouraging it to give of its best is what Jeremie’s skills are all about and this classy, finely tuned trio reflects his fastidious standards in impressive style.

Le Moulin Blanc

If your favourite wine is a 15% abv, thumping Shiraz with all the subtlety of a flying brick these may not be the wines for you.  However, if you enjoy refined flavours, clever wines for food where elegance counts for more than brute force, these could be right up your street. 

 
The Mourat Winery
 
The Wines

Behaving like an exquisitely balanced dry Vouvray, this is an exemplary expression of this delicious grape with green apple freshness and lightly honeyed ripeness, for an incisive palate with complexity and mouthwatering zip.  Delicious with fish, shellfish and free-range fowl.  Organic.

A pretty colour and a pretty nose too with the youthful impression of fresh grapeskin and enticing notes of raspberry fruit.  The palate is so clean, fully ripe with a gently juicy texture held beautifully by a little mild tannin for structure and the reappearance of that grapeskin note on the finish.  Drink with feathered game, roast ham or turkey.  Organic.

From a south facing vineyard close to the river, the conditions here are perfect for the development of noble rot.  The mineral geology makes its way to the finished wine where, with the natural acidity of the grape, it is at once medium sweet yet tangily fresh with barley sugar botrytis, a little fresh ginger and a whiff of candied pineapple.  Fresh, clean, rich but zingy, try it with fruit or not too sweet crème brulée.  Organic.

 

Friday, 7 October 2016

How To Taste...

Picture this; some smartarse has plonked an unknown glass of wine down in front of you and said, “Right then, tell me about this.”  God I hate it when that happens.  You’re trapped, but you have three options. 

Adopt a wide-eyed look of studied innocence, glance upward slowly at your halo and announce, “I am so sorry, the Chief Medical Officer was right and I cannot allow a drop of this, the greatest evil the world has ever seen, to pass my lips.”  Yeah, right.  Like that’s going to happen.

Grasp the glass like an old friend, raise it to your mouth and lower its contents at a gulp.  Beam at your tormenter and announce brightly, “It’s wine!”  They will think that you are a tit.

Go through a few tried and tested motions in a relaxed, confident manner and demonstrate that, even if you are unable to identify it, you clearly know what you are doing.  Beaten at their own game, they will dissemble uncomfortably and back off leaving you conspicuously the better person.

The following sequence can be carried out quite quickly without any of the dramatic gestures, rolling eyes, exaggerated throat gurgles and loud hums of lavish appreciation that TV producers seem to require from their favourite wine bods.  You can, in fact, remain reassuringly normal.

Take a look at the wine; reds get paler as they mature, whites become darker.  Density can give clues about fullness in reds.  Is it bright and clear or dull, even cloudy?  Are there any bubbles yet your wine isn’t a sparkler?  Are there any little particles suspended in the wine - if it is bottled unfiltered this may not be a problem, if not it might be.  If red is it purple/black or garnet or somewhere inbetween?  If white is it water pale or gold or a shade between the two?

Gently swirl the wine and look for “tears” on the sides of the glass; this can point out alcohol content and/or viscosity.  Before you move to the next stage you already have clues to the condition, body, possible age and a guess at sweetness/dryness from a glance.

Time to employ your hooter - this is the really important bit.  First check for faults - does it smell clean?  If not, does it smell musty like wet cardboard or old damp cellars?  If it does it’s probably corked.  Does it smell a bit like Sherry or Madeira?  If it does and it is neither of those delightful drinks, then it is likely that the air has got to it and it has become “madeirised”.  Is there an acetic, vinegar-like odour?  This usually indicates microbial spoilage, not as has been supposed before, a strange prog rock band from 1971, but contamination by bacteria.

Does it remind you of another fruit?  Different grape varieties suggest, say, blackcurrant or plum in red wine or perhaps gooseberry, lemon or apricot in white.  Are there any floral components - maybe a touch of elderflower or eucalyptus, perhaps green leafy aromas?   Can you smell oak?  Look for vanilla or woody spice like a hint of cinnamon.  What other aromas can you find - mushroom, leather, mocha?

Do any of these help you to identify a grape variety, or varieties in combination?  Look out for the signature aromas to match to a grape name; it takes time and experience but you never stop learning which is the perfect excuse to keep practising.  It is unhelpful to generalise too much but, to illustrate, watch for blackcurrant in Cabernet Sauvignon and nettley/gooseberry aromas in Sauvignon Blanc.

Is the aroma mild or intense, subtle or in your face?  Is it straightforward and fruity or more complex?  Are there mineral notes or honeyed, glycerin aromas indicating ripeness and/or dryness/sweetness?

In a couple of sniffs you can add to or confirm what your eyes have told you in phase one; you now know if it’s in good nick, you have clues to the maturity and grape variety/ies, an evolving idea of the quality and expectations of fullness/lightness, as well as sweetness/ dryness.  With experience the sum of these details may give you pointers to the country and even region of origin and you haven’t even tasted it yet.

Next, use your palate to confirm the above and assess the flavour which is made up of other influences beside taste.  Different parts of the mouth are particularly adept at recognising acidity, sweetness, alcohol and tannin; where do you feel them most?

Is it high or low in acidity?  Is it sweet or dry?  Is it full-bodied or lighter?  Do you think that there is any oak present, or clearly high or markedly low alcohol content?  Is it generously fruity or more austere?  Do you find it instantly agreeable or is it a more subtle wine that grows on you?

If it’s red you will detect the presence of tannin, a compound found in the skin of red grapes which is what can make your teeth feel furry.  Contrary to popular, inexperienced opinion this is not usually a negative thing as it is a natural preservative, important in red wines destined for laying down and adds texture to the palate.

Does the flavour linger or fade away quickly?  The flavour that remains after your mouth is clear is called the finish and a long finish is an indicator of quality.

Finally, add it all up.  The first question is, quite simply, do you like it?  What is it that you particularly enjoy or dislike?  Would you drink it on its own, with food or both? If you reckon that it’s a food wine, with what dish do you think it might work best?  Is it worth the money?

Please note that this is not intended as a fully comprehensive, meticulously ordered, all-covering set of instructions.  This is merely a somewhat random list of pointers to help you get a little more out of a glass of wine.  If it starts a little spark of extra interest and encourages you to want to learn more then it’s done its job.

Above all, keep tasting different wines.  Try outside your comfort zone.  Have fun!

How To Taste...

Picture this; some smartarse has plonked an unknown glass of wine down in front of you and said, “Right then, tell me about this.”  God I hate it when that happens.  You’re trapped, but you have three options. 

Adopt a wide-eyed look of studied innocence, glance upward slowly at your halo and announce, “I am so sorry, the Chief Medical Officer was right and I cannot allow a drop of this, the greatest evil the world has ever seen, to pass my lips.”  Yeah, right.  Like that’s going to happen.

Grasp the glass like an old friend, raise it to your mouth and lower its contents at a gulp.  Beam at your tormenter and announce brightly, “It’s wine!”  They will think that you are a tit.

Go through a few tried and tested motions in a relaxed, confident manner and demonstrate that, even if you are unable to identify it, you clearly know what you are doing.  Beaten at their own game, they will dissemble uncomfortably and back off leaving you conspicuously the better person.

The following sequence can be carried out quite quickly without any of the dramatic gestures, rolling eyes, exaggerated throat gurgles and loud hums of lavish appreciation that TV producers seem to require from their favourite wine bods.  You can, in fact, remain reassuringly normal.

Take a look at the wine; reds get paler as they mature, whites become darker.  Density can give clues about fullness in reds.  Is it bright and clear or dull, even cloudy?  Are there any bubbles yet your wine isn’t a sparkler?  Are there any little particles suspended in the wine - if it is bottled unfiltered this may not be a problem, if not it might be.  If red is it purple/black or garnet or somewhere inbetween?  If white is it water pale or gold or a shade between the two?

Gently swirl the wine and look for “tears” on the sides of the glass; this can point out alcohol content and/or viscosity.  Before you move to the next stage you already have clues to the condition, body, possible age and a guess at sweetness/dryness from a glance.

Time to employ your hooter - this is the really important bit.  First check for faults - does it smell clean?  If not, does it smell musty like wet cardboard or old damp cellars?  If it does it’s probably corked.  Does it smell a bit like Sherry or Madeira?  If it does and it is neither of those delightful drinks, then it is likely that the air has got to it and it has become “madeirised”.  Is there an acetic, vinegar-like odour?  This usually indicates microbial spoilage, not as has been supposed before, a strange prog rock band from 1971, but contamination by bacteria.

Does it remind you of another fruit?  Different grape varieties suggest, say, blackcurrant or plum in red wine or perhaps gooseberry, lemon or apricot in white.  Are there any floral components - maybe a touch of elderflower or eucalyptus, perhaps green leafy aromas?   Can you smell oak?  Look for vanilla or woody spice like a hint of cinnamon.  What other aromas can you find - mushroom, leather, mocha?

Do any of these help you to identify a grape variety, or varieties in combination?  Look out for the signature aromas to match to a grape name; it takes time and experience but you never stop learning which is the perfect excuse to keep practising.  It is unhelpful to generalise too much but, to illustrate, watch for blackcurrant in Cabernet Sauvignon and nettley/gooseberry aromas in Sauvignon Blanc.

Is the aroma mild or intense, subtle or in your face?  Is it straightforward and fruity or more complex?  Are there mineral notes or honeyed, glycerin aromas indicating ripeness and/or dryness/sweetness?

In a couple of sniffs you can add to or confirm what your eyes have told you in phase one;
you now know if it’s in good nick, you have clues to the maturity and grape variety/ies, an evolving idea of the quality and expectations of fullness/lightness, as well as sweetness/ dryness.  With experience the sum of these details may give you pointers to the country and even region of origin and you haven’t even tasted it yet.

Next, use your palate to confirm the above and assess the flavour which is made up of other influences beside taste.  Different parts of the mouth are particularly adept at recognising acidity, sweetness, alcohol and tannin; where do you feel them most?

Is it high or low in acidity?  Is it sweet or dry?  Is it full-bodied or lighter?  Do you think that there is any oak present, or clearly high or markedly low alcohol content?  Is it generously fruity or more austere?  Do you find it instantly agreeable or is it a more subtle wine that grows on you?

If it’s red you will detect the presence of tannin, a compound found in the skin of red grapes which is what can make your teeth feel furry.  Contrary to popular, inexperienced opinion this is not usually a negative thing as it is a natural preservative, important in red wines destined for laying down and adds texture to the palate.

Does the flavour linger or fade away quickly?  The flavour that remains after your mouth is clear is called the finish and a long finish is an indicator of quality.

Finally, add it all up.  The first question is, quite simply, do you like it?  What is it that you particularly enjoy or dislike?  Would you drink it on its own, with food or both? If you reckon that it’s a food wine, with what dish do you think it might work best?  Is it worth the money?

Please note that this is not intended as a fully comprehensive, meticulously ordered, all-covering set of instructions.  This is merely a somewhat random list of pointers to help you get a little more out of a glass of wine.  If it starts a little spark of extra interest and encourages you to want to learn more then it’s done its job.

Above all, keep tasting different wines.  Try outside your comfort zone.  Have fun!

How To Taste...

Picture this; some smartarse has plonked an unknown glass of wine down in front of you and said, “Right then, tell me about this.”  God I hate it when that happens.  You’re trapped, but you have three options. 

Adopt a wide-eyed look of studied innocence, glance upward slowly at your halo and announce, “I am so sorry, the Chief Medical Officer was right and I cannot allow a drop of this, the greatest evil the world has ever seen, to pass my lips.”  Yeah, right.  Like that’s going to happen.

Grasp the glass like an old friend, raise it to your mouth and lower its contents at a gulp.  Beam at your tormenter and announce brightly, “It’s wine!”  They will think that you are a tit.

Go through a few tried and tested motions in a relaxed, confident manner and demonstrate that, even if you are unable to identify it, you clearly know what you are doing.  Beaten at their own game, they will dissemble uncomfortably and back off leaving you conspicuously the better person.

The following sequence can be carried out quite quickly without any of the dramatic gestures, rolling eyes, exaggerated throat gurgles and loud hums of lavish appreciation that TV producers seem to require from their favourite wine bods.  You can, in fact, remain reassuringly normal.

Take a look at the wine; reds get paler as they mature, whites become darker.  Density can give clues about fullness in reds.  Is it bright and clear or dull, even cloudy?  Are there any bubbles yet your wine isn’t a sparkler?  Are there any little particles suspended in the wine - if it is bottled unfiltered this may not be a problem, if not it might be.  If red is it purple/black or garnet or somewhere inbetween?  If white is it water pale or gold or a shade between the two?

Gently swirl the wine and look for “tears” on the sides of the glass; this can point out alcohol content and/or viscosity.  Before you move to the next stage you already have clues to the condition, body, possible age and a guess at sweetness/dryness from a glance.

Time to employ your hooter - this is the really important bit.  First check for faults - does it smell clean?  If not, does it smell musty like wet cardboard or old damp cellars?  If it does it’s probably corked.  Does it smell a bit like Sherry or Madeira?  If it does and it is neither of those delightful drinks, then it is likely that the air has got to it and it has become “madeirised”.  Is there an acetic, vinegar-like odour?  This usually indicates microbial spoilage, not as has been supposed before, a strange prog rock band from 1971, but contamination by bacteria.

Does it remind you of another fruit?  Different grape varieties suggest, say, blackcurrant or plum in red wine or perhaps gooseberry, lemon or apricot in white.  Are there any floral components - maybe a touch of elderflower or eucalyptus, perhaps green leafy aromas?   Can you smell oak?  Look for vanilla or woody spice like a hint of cinnamon.  What other aromas can you find - mushroom, leather, mocha?

Do any of these help you to identify a grape variety, or varieties in combination?  Look out for the signature aromas to match to a grape name; it takes time and experience but you never stop learning which is the perfect excuse to keep practising.  It is unhelpful to generalise too much but, to illustrate, watch for blackcurrant in Cabernet Sauvignon and nettley/gooseberry aromas in Sauvignon Blanc.

Is the aroma mild or intense, subtle or in your face?  Is it straightforward and fruity or more complex?  Are there mineral notes or honeyed, glycerin aromas indicating ripeness and/or dryness/sweetness?

In a couple of sniffs you can add to or confirm what your eyes have told you in phase one;
you now know if it’s in good nick, you have clues to the maturity and grape variety/ies, an evolving idea of the quality and expectations of fullness/lightness, as well as sweetness/ dryness.  With experience the sum of these details may give you pointers to the country and even region of origin and you haven’t even tasted it yet.

Next, use your palate to confirm the above and assess the flavour which is made up of other influences beside taste.  Different parts of the mouth are particularly adept at recognising acidity, sweetness, alcohol and tannin; where do you feel them most?

Is it high or low in acidity?  Is it sweet or dry?  Is it full-bodied or lighter?  Do you think that there is any oak present, or clearly high or markedly low alcohol content?  Is it generously fruity or more austere?  Do you find it instantly agreeable or is it a more subtle wine that grows on you?

If it’s red you will detect the presence of tannin, a compound found in the skin of red grapes which is what can make your teeth feel furry.  Contrary to popular, inexperienced opinion this is not usually a negative thing as it is a natural preservative, important in red wines destined for laying down and adds texture to the palate.

Does the flavour linger or fade away quickly?  The flavour that remains after your mouth is clear is called the finish and a long finish is an indicator of quality.

Finally, add it all up.  The first question is, quite simply, do you like it?  What is it that you particularly enjoy or dislike?  Would you drink it on its own, with food or both? If you reckon that it’s a food wine, with what dish do you think it might work best?  Is it worth the money?

Please note that this is not intended as a fully comprehensive, meticulously ordered, all-covering set of instructions.  This is merely a somewhat random list of pointers to help you get a little more out of a glass of wine.  If it starts a little spark of extra interest and encourages you to want to learn more then it’s done its job.

Above all, keep tasting different wines.  Try outside your comfort zone.  Have fun!

How To Taste...

Picture this; some smartarse has plonked an unknown glass of wine down in front of you and said, “Right then, tell me about this.”  God I hate it when that happens.  You’re trapped, but you have three options. 

Adopt a wide-eyed look of studied innocence, glance upward slowly at your halo and announce, “I am so sorry, the Chief Medical Officer was right and I cannot allow a drop of this, the greatest evil the world has ever seen, to pass my lips.”  Yeah, right.  Like that’s going to happen.

Grasp the glass like an old friend, raise it to your mouth and lower its contents at a gulp.  Beam at your tormenter and announce brightly, “It’s wine!”  They will think that you are a tit.

Go through a few tried and tested motions in a relaxed, confident manner and demonstrate that, even if you are unable to identify it, you clearly know what you are doing.  Beaten at their own game, they will dissemble uncomfortably and back off leaving you conspicuously the better person.

The following sequence can be carried out quite quickly without any of the dramatic gestures, rolling eyes, exaggerated throat gurgles and loud hums of lavish appreciation that TV producers seem to require from their favourite wine bods.  You can, in fact, remain reassuringly normal.

Take a look at the wine; reds get paler as they mature, whites become darker.  Density can give clues about fullness in reds.  Is it bright and clear or dull, even cloudy?  Are there any bubbles yet your wine isn’t a sparkler?  Are there any little particles suspended in the wine - if it is bottled unfiltered this may not be a problem, if not it might be.  If red is it purple/black or garnet or somewhere inbetween?  If white is it water pale or gold or a shade between the two?

Gently swirl the wine and look for “tears” on the sides of the glass; this can point out alcohol content and/or viscosity.  Before you move to the next stage you already have clues to the condition, body, possible age and a guess at sweetness/dryness from a glance.

Time to employ your hooter - this is the really important bit.  First check for faults - does it smell clean?  If not, does it smell musty like wet cardboard or old damp cellars?  If it does it’s probably corked.  Does it smell a bit like Sherry or Madeira?  If it does and it is neither of those delightful drinks, then it is likely that the air has got to it and it has become “madeirised”.  Is there an acetic, vinegar-like odour?  This usually indicates microbial spoilage, not as has been supposed before, a strange prog rock band from 1971, but contamination by bacteria.

Does it remind you of another fruit?  Different grape varieties suggest, say, blackcurrant or plum in red wine or perhaps gooseberry, lemon or apricot in white.  Are there any floral components - maybe a touch of elderflower or eucalyptus, perhaps green leafy aromas?   Can you smell oak?  Look for vanilla or woody spice like a hint of cinnamon.  What other aromas can you find - mushroom, leather, mocha?

Do any of these help you to identify a grape variety, or varieties in combination?  Look out for the signature aromas to match to a grape name; it takes time and experience but you never stop learning which is the perfect excuse to keep practising.  It is unhelpful to generalise too much but, to illustrate, watch for blackcurrant in Cabernet Sauvignon and nettley/gooseberry aromas in Sauvignon Blanc.

Is the aroma mild or intense, subtle or in your face?  Is it straightforward and fruity or more complex?  Are there mineral notes or honeyed, glycerin aromas indicating ripeness and/or dryness/sweetness?

In a couple of sniffs you can add to or confirm what your eyes have told you in phase one;
you now know if it’s in good nick, you have clues to the maturity and grape variety/ies, an evolving idea of the quality and expectations of fullness/lightness, as well as sweetness/ dryness.  With experience the sum of these details may give you pointers to the country and even region of origin and you haven’t even tasted it yet.

Next, use your palate to confirm the above and assess the flavour which is made up of other influences beside taste.  Different parts of the mouth are particularly adept at recognising
acidity, sweetness, alcohol and tannin; where do you feel them most?

Is it high or low in acidity?  Is it sweet or dry?  Is it full-bodied or lighter?  Do you think that there is any oak present, or clearly high or markedly low alcohol content?  Is it generously fruity or more austere?  Do you find it instantly agreeable or is it a more subtle wine that grows on you?

If it’s red you will detect the presence of tannin, a compound found in the skin of red grapes which is what can make your teeth feel furry.  Contrary to popular, inexperienced opinion this is not usually a negative thing as it is a natural preservative, important in red wines destined for laying down and adds texture to the palate.

Does the flavour linger or fade away quickly?  The flavour that remains after your mouth is clear is called the finish and a long finish is an indicator of quality.

Finally, add it all up.  The first question is, quite simply, do you like it?  What is it that you particularly enjoy or dislike?  Would you drink it on its own, with food or both? If you reckon that it’s a food wine, with what dish do you think it might work best?  Is it worth the money?

Please note that this is not intended as a fully comprehensive, meticulously ordered, all-covering set of instructions.  This is merely a somewhat random list of pointers to help you get a little more out of a glass of wine.  If it starts a little spark of extra interest and encourages you to want to learn more then it’s done its job.

Above all, keep tasting different wines.  Try outside your comfort zone.  Have fun!

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Two Birds Spirits

The seriously annoying call centres that constantly peddle cheaper gas or electricity have an unerring tendency to up their call rate on Friday afternoons.  A few weeks ago, on a Friday during which we had already seen off five of these jokers, a late shout from an unknown number had me flexing my trigger finger.  In the event a charming chap called Nigel very skillfully de-fused me by talking about gin-and-tonic which seemed like a belting idea at this stage.  It turns out that he was calling from a fairly new craft distillery called Two Birds Spirits in Market Harborough, where they make small batches of different flavoured spirits which have their exceptionally smooth vodka as a base.

Now, Williamson and I are both purists in the world of alcoholic beverages, indeed as buyers for our business it could be argued that we have to be.  We don’t like novelty alcopops that glow in the dark or cider that tastes of tinned fruit salad; we don’t like gloopy cream liqueurs that look like baby sick and we don’t like wine that has been buggered about with flavours of chocolate.  After the G & T conversation Nigel slowly revealed their full range which led through the aforementioned vodka to four different gins.  So far, so good. Then there followed some fruit-infused vodkas which, on the face of it, seemed less our thing, though raspberry, blackberry and blackcurrant were logical - I have made my own home-made versions of blackberry and raspberry and most enjoyable they were too.  Passion fruit struck us as a little odd - they hardly grow rampant in the hedgerows of Leicestershire after all.

Then it got weird.  “Guess what our current best seller is,” he challenged genially.  I’d no idea, telepathy being a weak point in my arsenal, “Salted caramel! Oh and also going strong is After Dinner Mint!”  And it had all been going so well.  The disappointment in my voice must have been obvious; I explained the purism angle and that we don’t do novelty drinks and thanks for trying but….  Nigel pointed out quietly that we hadn’t tasted any of them yet and suggested that perhaps we should reserve judgment until we had and gamely offered to send us some samples.  Hard to argue with that really; if he was prepared to back his confidence with currency, the least we could do was try them.   

Twelve little bottles arrived which evoked, variously, delight, vague interest, doubt and abject horror.  Every now and again we all need a reminder about the danger of preconceptions; we knew which ones we would like and which we would reject with a weary sniff of disdain.  We knew that the gins would be nice enough, the fruity ones would be more or less OK and that the weird pair would be confected, sweet and disgusting.

Boy, were we wrong.


English Vodka is as smooth and pure as any I have tasted.  Put up against the trendy and more expensive Grey Goose my family unanimously preferred it. 


London Dry Gin is an award winner with a top Gold Medal at the 2013 Craft Distillers Association and a Silver Outstanding at the International Wine and Spirit Awards, however a different version marketed as Speciality Cocktail Gin because it has a double hit of juniper actually trumps the former in our view.  Not only does it retain its juniper character in a cocktail, but it also makes a wonderfully punchy G & T.  It was awarded a Double Gold medallion at the 2014 San Francisco World Spirit Competition.  We have chosen this one to stock for its deliciously intense juniper character and versatility.


Old Tom Gin harks back to the rotgut produced in the 18th and 19th centuries when much of the gin was pretty filthy and distinctly dodgy, frequently illegal distillers disregarded the first volatile elements to come off the still as well as the final heavy ones - the “heads and tails” - which are toxic and must be discarded.  The resulting coarse spirit was sweetened up to disguise its rough flavours and it was a style that found favour with the masses.  Even though it killed some of them.  Fast forward to today to a beautifully refined, modern interpretation which is impeccably smooth and retains the less dry feel of the past.  This too makes a banging G & T and a brilliant Tom Collins.


The berry-based fruit variants are made with fresh English fruit and the same beautifully pure Vodka described above.  These are not a variation of the French crème de cassis et al, they are far less sweet and not remotely syrupy.  The Raspberry Vodka holds its pretty colour and its crisp summer fruit is captured in the vodka without detracting from the delicacy of the fruit itself.  It is medium and not at all jammy.  Finished at 26% abv it mixes well with good tonic - my trials show Fevertree low sugar is great - while Fentimans Rose lemonade offers a different option.  Plop a couple of fresh raspberries in and make a long summer refresher.


The Blackcurrant Vodka is intense and juicy with rich, concentrated blackcurrant flavours.  It is similarly clean and un-sticky, made from the same variety as Ribena apparently, with the berry’s refreshing acidity balancing a natural note of sweetness.  I have no idea whether blackcurrants’ famous vitamin C content makes it this far via the maceration process, but I will be pleased to take the risk - it is delicious!  It registers 32% abv and is certainly not kids’ stuff; pour over ice with a sprig of mint for a solo reviver, serve a tot with summer pudding, or trickle over a suitable sorbet or ice-cream.


Passion Fruit Vodka although clearly not from English fruit is nonetheless made with organic fruit, continuing the company’s attention to detail.  Its passion fruit definition is pin-sharp with plenty of clean, tropical zing.  Medium or a shade drier and bottled at 29% abv, this will also work well with the same mixers as the raspberry.  At its best, pour a modest dollop into a wine glass and serve with a crisp dry sparkling white, though you will have to have a couple to find out how much passion fruit suits you!


We approached the pair that, in conversation at least, nearly killed the deal.  I had heard of toffee vodka products before and the sticky, sickly reputation of some made us sneak up on our sample to try and catch it unawares.  Our fears were entirely misplaced; suddenly we swung from instinctive dislike to amazed fans and with the zeal of a religious convert would recommend it to anyone who is a lover of high-grade toffee.  The Salted Caramel Vodka is pale and fresh looking, first smelling, then tasting, precisely like very good salted caramel, neither insistently salty nor, vitally, as sweet as the solid stuff which leaves it clean and not in the least sticky or sickly.  We were sure we wouldn’t like it, indeed not sure that we even wanted to like it but just couldn’t help it.  It packs a punch at 37.5% abv and would work with any toffee-ish, caramel-ish pud but makes a great post-prandial drink poured over ice.


The final line on the tasting was After Dinner Mint Vodka.  How unlikely does that sound?  I remember from early years in the trade a number of strikingly nasty liqueurs to be found on the “liqueur trolley” in restaurants all over the country.  I haven’t seen one for years, thank God.  Some of these purported to be chocolate and/or mint based and were universally horrid.  Williamson was a posh sommelier in a previous incarnation and remembers all this with exactly the same revulsion as he had to push the trolley!  This however is forensically accurate in its flavour and it reproduces the taste sensation in every respect but one: it is not as sweet.  This is a seriously skilful recipe; it would be so easy to overdo one or other of the key ingredients yet it is not overly rich, nor too sweet, nor obviously sticky.  Do not bother with a box of minty chocs just give them a glass of this, served cold.  If you make yourself a hot chocolate drink, liven it up a bit with a shot of this, but be aware that it is 29% abv.

This is a very different direction for Wines of Interest and we appreciate that despite our enthusiasm for an unexpected range of spirits some of you will think some of them are just not WoI and not for you either.  Straight gin and vodka aside, so did we.  The only way around this is to taste them before you make your mind up and they will be available to try at our Summer Tasting on Thursday June 9th 2016.  If you are not going to be there we will try and make them available to taste in the shop and you can see for yourselves.  Click here to buy a ticket for the tasting.

Usefully, all these come in two sizes.  There are standard 70cl bottles and 20cl bottles which are ideal for running trials at home or when you just need a little for cocktails and flavouring.  Clearly they cannot be exactly cheap, but they are top notch and offer some deliciously different alternatives to your drinks table or fridge.  Click here for full details.  
 

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Too much advice is bad for you

      
Jim struggled home with his bag of shopping, it was heavy and the sifting rain made his walk back pretty miserable.  He hoped that Nell, his wife, would weave her magic with the bag’s contents and make his efforts worthwhile.  She had packed him off with a list of ingredients for a number of baking projects and Jim reinforced his resolve with thoughts of her plump muffins and succulent apple turnover.  He picked his way through the puddles to the front door, fumbled with the key and gratefully stepped out of the wet.
 
The bank of sensors in the hall, set at knee height to monitor the contents of all incoming groceries, buzzed and flashed predictions of imminent doom.  One after another the display units declared Fat Alert - Butter Detected; Allergy Probability - Wheat Flour Found; Fructose Warning - Cooking Apples Present and Processed Meat Danger - Sausagemeat Hazard. 
 
The new “Dame Sally” Dietary Vice Alarm, the most unforgiving model yet, was connected to a central computer which downloaded new information constantly.  For example the Red Meat sensor which had maintained a benign silence for so long had recently developed a particularly shrill note.   The Dairy cell barely knew whether it was coming or going: triggered by butter today, it may well fall silent on the matter tomorrow.  Jim half expected it to self-destruct over the fat content v. calcium benefit calculation in the great cheese debate.
 
After the fridge had reprimanded him for using full milk in his tea and the larder gave him a bollocking for taking a solitary digestive, Jim braced himself for the savage admonishing he would receive from the ceiling monitor in the sitting-room.  This remarkably sensitive device was programmed to detect the merest scintilla of alcohol and Jim was contemplating a cleansing ale which, God knows, he felt he had earned.  At the first hiss of escaping pressure, before the cap had rattled satisfyingly onto the sideboard, the alarm went into electronic apoplexy.
 
Nell heard the racket and requested a large one from her husband.  The second that the cap came off the gin the sensors went into full scale banshee mode and the screen flashed Cirrhosis!  Obesity!  Cancer! Brain Damage! and any other infirmity it could blame on a drink.  The device also kept a tally of units consumed per week and blared, Amber Warning: Ten Units Used! AFD Required!
 
An AFD was the alarm’s shorthand for Alcohol Free Day.  Like all governments and bureaucracies, these monitors too communicated in acronyms.  They had been compulsorily installed by order of an umbrella organization within the government called the National Enjoyment Restriction Department, NERD for short, coincidently reflecting the type of cheerless, small-minded pen-pusher who would take on such a task.  The execution of the order was delegated to the Sector Promoting Health Indoctrination Nationally Controlling & Taxing Alcohol, SPHINCTA which, curiously, also spoke volumes about its operatives.  The trouble with such concerns is that they attract zealots from outside their offices who form amateur counterparts in hateful support.  These coagulate into bigger entities and the government, typically divesting itself of expense and responsibility, farmed out the task of supervising the paperwork and collating the data to the British Association Supporting Total Alcohol Restriction Discontinuance & Sacrifice.  Yup.  You might wonder why nobody had checked the suitability of the acronyms, but the collective senses of humour, fun and warmth in the assembled multitude of staff combined across the three lumbering, monolithic organizations would, in the incomparable descriptive words of Bill Bryson, “fit comfortably inside a proton and still leave room for an echo.” Nobody would have noticed.
 
Taking his life in his hands Jim took a long, refreshing gulp of beer and idly considered if a glass or two of red with supper might be in order.  He ambled through to the kitchen to deliver Nell her G & T and found her preparing greens to go with their shepherd’s pie.  This was a family favourite, once deemed nutritious and a great way to use up leftovers, but now triggered dire warnings on the “Dame Sally” kitchen screen.  High GI from the mash which, uh-oh, also contained butter; a red meat alert for the pie’s delicious filling and a whoa, what’s this - watch out for vitamin k in your greens?  He’d only just consigned grapefruit, an erstwhile super-food, to the dustbin of forbidden delights because of the statin he took every evening.  This was becoming confusing.
 
It was Jim’s turn to cook tomorrow and it was worrying him already.  The plan had been to produce fish and chips; not something they had often, but fish was still alright for you, wasn’t it?  I mean, if you use sustainable fish and the right sort of fat in the fryer?  Heeding the old animal fat warning Jim had changed to vegetable oil for a while, secure in the knowledge that poly-unwossnames were good for you but saturated ones are not.  Now this information had been stood on its head by a proper scientist who had said that owing to changes the veg oil underwent at high temperature, actually it would be less bad for you to use lard after all.  Eh?
 
Apparently an hour in front of the telly is, guess what, bad for you - too sedentary or some such, so Jim and Nell retired early.  Unsurprisingly troubled and unable to sleep, the pair discussed this weird turn.  What confused Nell most was that in almost every case a well-respected, fully-qualified talking head would declare, eat red meat/drink wine/enjoy a little butter, only to be countered by an equally experienced “expert” in the same field whose opinions were diametrically opposed to those of his illustrious colleague.  Whom do you believe, she wondered, if those trained and paid handsomely to help us can’t agree themselves?
 
Jim contended that not one of them, however they had interpreted the evidence, took any interest in our happiness.  Eat this - it might be better for your heart/liver/brain; avoid that or it might give you any one of an impressive range of fatal conditions… but there is no consideration for your soul.  How much does being happy or miserable affect your health? 
 
Eventually they grumbled themselves to sleep but in the morning after a virtually toxic bacon sandwich, they made their determined way out to the shed while the kitchen alarms wailed inconsolably.  Each grabbed a hammer and, laughing for the first time in weeks, smashed their useless, intrusive, confusing, killjoy “Dame Sally” unit to dust.  Glorious silence.
 
Today was going to be a very good day.  Well worth raising a glass to that, for the conclusion they had reached the night before was that a little of what you fancy does you good, just as Grandma had been saying all along.