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Thursday, 31 July 2014

St Lucia Distillers “1931” Second Edition Rum

St Lucia Distillers “1931” Second Edition rum, created to mark over 80 years of distilling on the island of St Lucia, was awarded "Best Rum" at the International Spirits Challenge earlier this year.

The rum is blended each year and the casks for this “1931” Second Edition include a combination of American white oak casks and Port casks from 2004, 2005 and 2006.

Amber mahogany, rich mixed fruit, dried figs and fruitcake with sweet vanilla and roasted spices with some nail polish.
Potent, intense and bitter initially; a roasted vanilla bitter-sweetness with cooked mixed fruit and mocha develops, followed by a very long, savoury, persistent, peppery-spicy finish.

Mellow and harmonious - a soft, supple, aged, rum of depth and complexity. Good.
Match with dark chocolate, espresso and a cigar.
Available retail in 70cl bottles (43% abv) for £52.49 from  www.MasterofMalt.com and  www.timeswhiskyclub.com

Provided for review.

St Lucia Distillers Rums are sold in leading cocktail bars throughout the UK including: Portobello Star, London W11; Hoxton Pony, London EC1; Keko Moku, Manchester; Lockside Lounge, London NW1; Blue Dog, Glasgow; Voodoo Lounge, Edinburgh; Skylon, London SE1; Mahiki, Mayfair, London W1 and many more.

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Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Three Wines From Tanners

Three wines from Tanners

The best businesses combine heritage with innovation; Tanners, a family-owned independent wine merchant run by 4th-generation Tanner, James, dates back to 1842, but feels unpretentiously contemporary.

The company specialises in sourcing good value, every-day drinkers from regions like Southern France and is happy to be considered a traditionalist, but in the best sense of the word.

Marketing Manager Hannah Schwarzer explained to me: "We look to be at the forefront of establishing new, dynamic wine regions and led the vanguard in championing the Douro.

We have have also been merrily promoting the joys of sherry for decades, through that category’s boom and bust times (hopefully coming back round to boom!) and we have a great German range which sets us apart from most.

They sent me a case of their wines to review - here are the first three:

Mariscal Manzanilla Sherry (£8.70) gutsy and expressive tangy Manzanilla made by Hidalgo - a textbook Manzanilla with bags of salty personality. Great value.

Match with the usual tapas; jamon, bread and oil, manchego cheese and shellfish.

Tanners Merlot, IGP d'Oc 2013 (£7.50) lifted damson and raspberry fruit, easy-drinking juicy freshness with a gentle lick of oak. Good value.

An easy drinker that does not need food, but will stand up to herby sausages, salamis or even, slightly chilled, picnic food.

Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Riesling Spätlese Nr13 Grey Slate, Hain, Mosel 2011 (£16.70) golden sandy yellow, aromas of roasted peach skins, ripe citrus and some cellar mustiness. Sweet ripe peaches and apricots, baked apples with spice and fresh, zesty acidity; the incense, beeswax and old leather books of a high mass.

Complex and harmonious with the benefit of a few year's age - will improve further. Really lovely indeed - Very Good.
We matched it very successfully with Austrian tafelspitz followed by mature hard cheeses.
So far, it's three out of three for Tanner's - well-made, characterful, inexpensive wines below £10 and a real stunner of a Mosel Riesling; all fairly priced.

Fans of German stickies will be pleased to learn that the current Summer Sale list includes some unusually large discounts on sweeter German Rieslings - full details here: http://www.tanners-wines.co.uk/top-offers/summer-sale.html

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Monday, 28 July 2014

Matching Food And Wine: Greece‏

Matching Greek mezes from Gaea with a Greek wine from Tanner's
- I grew up in Europe, where the history comes from
Eddie Izzard, Dressed to Kill

Europe's general claim as the greatest wine region in the world is not based solely on its grapes, terroir or viticultural practices.

Rather it is the combination of all these things plus centuries of experimentation of grape varieties, growing conditions and local cuisine.

Tuscany's rasping reds cut perfectly through bistecca all fiorentina or meaty ragu; Burgundy's hedonistic Pinot and succulent Chardonnay complement its rich, gamey cuisine.

By contrast, Greek wine is a typically Balkan series of contradictions - ancient, yet modern; historic yet forward-looking; unified, yet diverse.

What we call "Greece" is not an homogenous country at all; a disparate collection of islands plus a mainland whose borders have shifted around over the years, Greece defies easy definition and is more a geopolitical faultline between east and west than a country.

Mezes are no more indicative of the breadth and variety of Greece's national cuisine than pasta is of Italy's or tapas of Spain's. But like pasta and tapas, it is something familiar and as good a place as any to start.

Strongly-flavoured olive-based foods need a relatively neutral wine with plenty of body and acidity to stand up; Assyrtiko is perhaps Greece's ultimate food wine. From the volcanic island of Santorini, it is linear, mineral and sharp-yet-full - the Greek equivalent or fino or Gruener Veltliner.

The mezes
Gaea D.O.P. Kalamata Extra Virgin Olive Oil (£5.49 for 500ml from Waitrose and Ocado) from Kalamata in Southern Peloponnese, made from cold-pressed Koroneiki olives
Gaea Kalamata Olive Tapenade
Gaea Sweet Red Pepper & Goat Cheese Tapenade
Gaea Flame-Roasted Red Peppers
Gaea Garlic-Stuffed Green Olives
Gaea Pitted Kalamata Olives

Gaea speciality foods are available in Waitrose, Ocado and independent retailers.

The wine
Santorini Dry White, Hatzidakis 2013 (£13.20, Tanner's Wines) sandy yellow, orchard fruits on the rose; sweet, ripe cooked peaches, but dry, fresh and mineral. A touch of salinity; long, mineral finish. Good.

Mezes and wine provided for review.

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Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Two Sophisticated Summer Rosés

Two sophisticated food rosés from France

Hardly the most serious of wines, rosé can often be the cheapest and cheerfullest option.

However, there is such as thing as serious, ambitious rosé and these two come from areas less associated with the frivolity of pinkness, so if you happen to be looking for an ambitious food rosé, consider these.

Both are similar in nature and profile - with fresh acidity and minerality both are food wines and will cut through picnics of cold cuts, quiches, salad leaves and cheeses.

Jean-Luc Colombo Les Pins Couchés, 2013, IGP Mediterranée (£9.99, Cambridge Wine Merchants, other independents)

Very pale pink, restrained nose with hints of red fruit and muskiness; pure, clean ripe redcurrant fruit, precise linear acidity and insistent minerality.

Focused, long, rounded and mouthfilling with a balanced, persistent finish. Good.

Joseph Mellot Le Rabault Rosé 2013, Sancerre (£16.99, independents)

Hints of pomegranate and beeswax on the nose; redcurrant fruit, lime zest and intense minerality. Precise, focused and long. Very structured. Very Good.

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Monday, 21 July 2014

Italian Wines from Marks and Spencer

Five classic Italian wines from Marks and Spencer
Italy challenges France for quality, diversity and volume of wines produced in any year; a long, thin, mountainous country with an extensive coastline, there is very little of its surface that is not suited to growing vines.
What Italy, lacks, however, is a clear, rigorous classification system; Italians, it seems, are as idiosyncratic and undisciplined in their wine labelling as they are in most other walks of life.
These five wines from M&S are all Italian classics; they are in roughly ascending order of quality. The best is the Barolo, the best value the Valpolicella.
Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2013  (£7.99) lots of pure black and red cherry and blueberry fruit with a shake of black pepper. Vibrant and juicy; good entry-level example.
Match with a juicy steak, spicy sausages or salami.
Dolcetto d'Asti, 2013 (£7.00) vibrant purple; intense, juicy blueberry and cherry fruit with some savoury roasted spices. Fresh, poised, clean and focused.
A good food wine, match with pasta and meaty sauces.
Chianti Classico Riserva Castello della Paneretta 2011 (£14.00) translucent ruby, cherry fruit and pepperiness; sweet, ripe, cooked red fruits, red and black cherries, dried herbs and a lick of oak; long and savoury with fine tannins.
With 14.5% alcohol, it is a touch alcoholic on the finish.
Match with hearty casseroles or roast red meat, such as lamb with rosemary and garlic.
Valpolicella Ripasso, 2012 (£9.50) translucent ruby garnet, earthy, plummy, eucalyptus nose; sweet, ripe, baked plum, cassis and morello cherry with some spice, liquorice and port-like herbaceous notes from partially-dried grapes.
Fresh, long and savoury; harmonious, balanced finish.
Match with duck breast in cherry sauce.
Barolo Peironte 2009 (£18) pale translucent ruby with some brick red hints; plum, tobacco, cool mint, sweet vanilla and savoury spice with very fine, persistent tannins.
Dense, concentrated, long and harmonious. Very Good.
Match with slow-roasted red meats or a beef ragu.
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Sunday, 20 July 2014

Two Gold Medal Wines from The Co-op

Two (more) award-winning wines from The Co-op

The Co-op has been steadily improving its wine range for some time now - and has won a stackful of medals for their efforts (210 for anyone who's counting)

I am, in general, a strong believer in the value of medals - for sure, they sometimes need taking with a pinch of salt - and some competitions seem to have higher standards than others. But, as a basic indicator of reasonableness, they work.

My rule-of-thumb is that Silvers and above are generally worth seeking out; expect anything below this to be sound but perhaps rather dull - useful if you are buying to a budget, but not for when you want to impress.

These two Co-op wines both have Gold Medals from Decanter and Silvers from the International Wine Challenge.

Peter Yealands Sauvignon Blanc 2013 New Zealand (£9.99) A new winery from New Zealand, I've been impressed with Yealands previously.

Textbook NZ Sauvignon; zesty, aromatic and expressive with nettles, gooseberies, guava, lime marmalade and minerality. Crisp, poised and precise.

Balanced and long; very adept and assured - Good.

Match with Thai curries, fish carpaccio or aromatic salad leaves.

Skillogalee Basket Pessed Shiraz 2010, Australia (£16.99) Shiraz pretty much made its name in Australia - and made Australia's name in the process.

Sweet, ripe dark fruits with sour cherries, black pepper, mocha and bitter roasted spices. Very fine, perfectly ripe tannins and mineral underpinnings. Substantial, complex and savoury.

Mellow, yet still assertive - Very Good.

Match with game in a rich sauce, bistecca alla fiorentina or roast lamb.

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Thursday, 10 July 2014

Two Burgundies from Louis Jadot

A red and white Burgundy from Louis Jadot

Negociant Louis Jadot dates back to 1859 and specialises in producing typical, reliable and well-made if ambitiously-priced Burgundies.

If I've rarely had a bottle from Jadot that disappoints, I've also rarely had one that was truly thrilling - it's the oenological equivalent of a middling public school churning out bank managers, actuaries and low-level civil servants.

It is, of course, no mean feat to produce reliable Burgundy, so the pricing premium is perhaps not unreasonable - and it's as good a way as any for the enthusiastic novice to discover what Burgundy is all about.

Pouilly-Fuissé 2011 (£20.99, independents) Golden sandy yellow; sweet, ripe orchard fruit, citrus fruit and acidity, leesiness and sweet spice with a touch of buttery oak. Harmonious, accomplished and very enjoyable. Good.

A versatile food wine, match with white meat, mushroom dishes or hard cheeses.

Côte de Beaune-Villages 2011 (£16.75, Majestic and independents) Translucent ruby; earthy, mushroomy nose. Ripe red fruits, freshness, oaky spice and savouriness with a persistent, slightly grippy finish. Soft texture, fine tannins. Good.

Match with game, roast lamb or wild salmon.

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Monday, 7 July 2014

Cambridge Bumps - And a Bordeaux Rosé from The Wine Society

 A Cambridge Bumps garden party with Gareth John of First Intuition

With its rather comedic-sounding name, the Cambridge Bumps conjures up images of It's a Knockout-type silly competitions. The reality could be hardly more different it; is almost sadistically competitive.

The Bumps are a series of rowing races between teams from the Cambridge colleges, all starting a boat length apart, along a two-mile stretch of the Cam and running over five days.

When the starting gun sounds, all the boats set off with the same aim - to reach the boat in front and either "bump" it (hence the name) or overtake it. At this point, both boats pull over to the side and let the followers through to carry on their respective races.

There is a somehat pagan feel to what happens next - the bumping boat crew decorate themselves with headresses made from the reeds and branches by the riverbank and receive the plaudits of the crowd as they parade leisurely down the river to the finish line. (The bumped boat, by contrast, completes an ignomious "row of shame" in stony silence to the finish).

The only way to approach the bumps, then, is as a full-on sprint in which you try to catch the boat in front as quickly as possible. There is no defensive strategy possible.

Aim simply not to be overtaken and there is a winding two-mile course to be completed, the sprint becoming a strength-sapping marathon.

But, of course, everyone is on exactly the same strategy; it is brutal.

The more-technical details of the bumps are that it works like a squash league - bump a boat in front and you move up a place, succeed in avoiding being bumped all week and you get to fly a flag at the end of your boat. There are three cannon shots to count down to a race - one at five minutes, at one minute and to start.

A boat with flags means it has not been bumped at any point during the week-long races
A team of supporters rides alongside the boats with whistle calls - once for general encouragement, two for approaching the next boat and three for almost touching.

Boats can cost up to £50,000 so an alternative to bumping is simply for the cox of the losing boat to raise a hand in an acknowledgement of defeat.
A cox's raised hand indicates that defeat is conceded
More arcane details are that if your team kills a member of an opposing team during a race, you are banned from further competition; however, at least two colleges have got around this by renaming their teams.

One of the best ways to see the bumps, if you can, is from a garden backing on to the river - we were lucky enough to do this with some friends and brought along a couple of bottles of wine to pass the afternoon with.

I wanted something easy-drinking and inexpensive, but well-made and enjoyable, so I chose a Bordeaux rosé from The Wine Society.

Château Bel Air Perponcher, Réserve 2012 rosé (Bordeaux) pale salmon-pink, ripe stone and red berry fruit, refreshing and persistent with a mineral finish. Well-made and a perfect picnic wine.

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Thursday, 3 July 2014

Château la Tulipe de la Garde 2011 - Sainsbury's

A red Bordeaux from Chateau Tulipe

I rather feel this Bordeaux can be best summarised by its main attributes - a Bordeaux from 2011 made with oversight from consultant oenologist Michel Rolland that has won a stack of medals.

It is a very well-made entry-level Bordeaux with all the polish, assuredness and ripe, easy-drinking character you would expect from a Michel Rolland wine.

But 2011 was a cool year, so it lacks some of the substance of, say, the 2009 which I reviewed a while ago - but that's just vintage variation.

Overall, it is a pleasant, juicy and accomplished Merlot that is gently infused, the fruits more red than brambly, with only a gentle oaking; for early drinking, rather than cellaring.

A textbook example of how to make good wine in a cooler year, there is nothing not to like here.


The best food matches are perhaps more Burgundian than Bordelais - duck breast, salami or game terrine.

£9.99 from Sainsbury's; provided for review.

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Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Zephyr Limoux 2012 from Abbotts & Delaunay

A Languedoc Chardonnay from Abbotts & Delaunay

Oaky chardonnay is all a bit early noughties.

For years, I resisted Chardonnay's buttery, oatmealy charms in preference to thrilling, zingy Riesling - and only started to come round just as the backlash was beginning and we all discovered kiwi Sauvignon Blanc.

This Abbotts & Delaunay Chardonnay is from Languedoc, but does not feel especially warm-climate - it blends a Burgundian precision with just enough southern warmth.

Sandy yellow in the glass, there are complex aromas of dried citrus, beeswax, sweet spice and jasmine.

Zingy and fresh, but with a saline minerality; nutty, creamy oatmeal and leesiness. Long, substantial and persistent.

Poised, harmonious and very accomplished. Will only improve with age.

Very Good.

£16.99 from Avery's; provided for review.

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Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Wine and Identity: Branding, Heritage, Terroir

Book review: Wine and Identity: Branding, Heritage, Terroir

Dense, concentrated and long - and that's just the introduction.

Generally, an involvement in wine is more of a lifestyle choice than a business decision.

There is a Romance about being in wine that seems to be anathema to any discussion of it as a consumer product to be made, marketed and sold for the best price possible.

Working in wine is perhaps a bit like fashion or acting - it appeals to many people but only a very few actually make good money out of it. Those who see wine as primarily a business rather than merely a lifestyle are noticeably in the minority.

With the average price of a bottle of wine in the UK around a fiver and, of that, about 30p being the cost of the wine itself, there are many easier ways to make money than in wine.

The key challenge is pricing, which is supported by branding. However, branding is an investment that does not come easily to a fragmented, small scale, individualistic and variable sector such as winemaking.

Academic, encyclopedic books on wine tend to cover the grapes, vineyards and chateaux of the world's wine-producing regions - as if production of the stuff were the only thing that mattered.

This book looks at the flipside of the process - the sales-side marketing of wine.

It is not a light-hearted, easy read - rather, a reference text aimed principally at the academic market, it is a thoroughly researched, well-supported series of case studies of branding and marketing in the wine world.

The introduction alone reveals a depth of thinking far beyond the average level of debate by even some of our best-known and serious-thinking wine journalists.

The potential audience for this book, I suspect, is not amongst wine journalists - even if it should be. Rather, it may prove most useful for the marketing and PR people of wine and tourism trade bodies; the case studies often relate to regions (California, Otago), countries (Slovenia, Georgia) or entire styles of wine, such as sherry.

In addition, there are chapters for the sociologists and trend-watchers on Baby boomers vs Gen Y, winery architecture and online terroir.

It is an academic textbook (24 authors, three editors, most of them Drs or Profs) and rather reads as one - for all its business management stories, it is no great page-turner (lots of referencing and acknowledgements rather slow the pace.)

But it is full of facts and information - for anyone looking to build a wine brand, it provides reliable and detailed insight into how this can be achieved.

Each chapter is written as a case study with key conclusions at the end.

Of the 18 chapters, five are devoted to heritage, six to branding and five to terroir. Yet, as the book's introduction recognises, these are intersecting, overlapping themes - albeit ones that have been largely overlooked in the academic literature to date.

Ultimately, it is a book "for anyone who has held aloft a glass of wine and pondered some of the intriguing stories that might exist behind this historic and gratifying beverage".

Technical details and website blurb

Wine and Identity: Branding, Heritage, Terroir
Edited by Matt Harvey, Leanne White, Warwick Frost
Routledge – 2013
256 pages
Hardback, £85

In an increasingly competitive global market, winemakers are seeking to increase their sales and wine regions to attract tourists. To achieve these aims, there is a trend towards linking wine marketing with identity.

Such an approach seeks to distinguish wine products – whether wine or wine tourism – from their competitors, by focusing on cultural and geographical attributes that contribute to the image and experience. In essence, marketing wine and wine regions has become increasingly about telling stories – engaging and provocative stories which engage consumers and tourists and translate into sales.

This timely book examines this phenomena and how it is leading to changes in the wine and tourism industries for the first time. It takes a global approach, drawing on research studies from around the world including old and new world wine regions.

The volume is divided into three parts. The first – branding – investigates cases where established regions have sought to strengthen their brands or newer regions are striving to create effective emerging brands.

The second – heritage – considers cases where there are strong linkages between cultural heritage and wine marketing. The third section – terroir – explores how a ‘sense of place’ is inherent in winescapes and regional identities and is increasingly being used as a distinctive selling proposition.

This significant volume showcasing the connections between place, identity, variety and wine will be valuable reading for students, researchers and academics interested in tourism, marketing and wine studies.

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