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Monday, 24 September 2018

DJ's Cold Infusion Pockets

A new addition to your cocktail accessory collection

DJ's Cold Infusion Pockets are, if you will, tea bags for cocktails and mocktails; pre-blended mixtures of botanicals, blossoms, rooibos and tropical fruits in a bag for infusing into any drink of your choice, be it a neutral spirit, such as vodka, or non-alcoholic alternatives such as soda or tonic water.


If life's too short - or space too tight - to keep stocks of base spirits, flavourings, bitters, mixers, garnishes and other ingredients as well as shakers and strainers and those little mini-umbrellas, you will find a box of these much easier to work with.

This is the really easy bit - you know how to make a cup of tea, right? Well, this is much the same, but without the need for a kettle. Just pop the tea bag (aka "cold infusion pocket") into a glass about a third full. Leave to infuse for a few moments and then top up with mixer and ice (and a bit more spirit if it's going to be that sort of party).

Does it actually work? Is it nice?

This is the key test and fortunately, the answer is yes on both counts. The tea bags - sorry, cold infusion pocket - need only a minute or two to work and each one will gently flavour several medium-sized servings of your favourite tipple.

Stirring Botanicals adds fruits, liquorice and bitterness, Summer Equinox is full of gentle berry fruit and Blooming Blossoms is delicate, floral and perfumey.

The only thing you have to worry about is the appropriate spirit-to-mixer ratio - which I find is actually harder than it sounds.

Anything else?

DJ's also do a cold infusion pocket spoon - not quite as ridiculous as it sounds (it's a spoon, after all) it has a little groove on the back to hold the label in place and keep the bag under control.
How much?

£9.99 for a pack of 10, or £89.00 for a 10-box pack. £7.99 for the spoon - via the website: https://coldinfusion.co.uk/shop/.

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Marques De Valido Gran Reserva Rioja

An aged Rioja from The Co-op

Aged wines have a quality unlike any other - for wines, as for people, maturity brings a harmoniousness, quietly self-confident mellowness and a general smoothing-off of youthful earnest vigour.

Like Bryan Ferry or Mick Jagger, all the qualities that made them great in their youth are still there - handsome, mischievous and knowing - but with the self-assurance of a few grey hairs and lines.

Most wine is not made to be aged extensively before drinking and cellaring properly at home is tricky and expensive.So the opportunity to taste a properly mature wine is not one to be missed.

With a minimum of two years in oak and nine years' age in total, this is a mellow and harmonious wine that is ready for drinking now, but in no rush to be opened if you want to hang onto it for longer.

Marques De Valido Gran Reserva Rioja 2009 (£12.99) mellow oaky spice and aged leather with bramble fruits and coconut. Fresh, supple and very harmonious.


Match with classic roast lamb, or any other roast red meat.

Saturday, 15 September 2018

Garçon Wines

Wine in a flat-pack bottle - from Garçon Wines

Wine is something of a conservative, old-fashioned business - each region has its own grapes, quality standards and labelling etiquette.

One of the few standard things about wine is that it is - generally - sold in 75cl bottles. And yet even these are bulky, brittle and awkward.

Step forward Garçon Wines who have designed a flexible flat-pack bottle to fit through the letter box and that won't break when it drops on the doormat, so you do not need to be at home for deliveries.

It's one of those ingenious solutions that make you wonder why no-one thought of it before.

And what of the wine itself?

Garçon Wines was set up by wine lover Joe Revell and serial entrepreneur Santiago Navarro who was responsible for Vinopic Wines. I was very impressed with Vinopic's wines (they were tested for technical quality by both a Professor and Master of Wine) but I felt their communications did not do justice to this.

For Garçon wines, they have enlisted the help of another MW who brings 15 years of experience in wine making, buying and retailing as well as an MBA in marketing.

Garçon Wines Tempranillo Carinena expressive with ripe-yet-fresh dark berry and bramble fruit, spice and supple, rounded tannins, with a slightly porty finish; well-made, it both drinks nicely straight out of the bottle and improves with a bit of aeration.

Match with roast red meat, such as lamb with rosemary or beef with horseradish.

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Wines for Curry Week

Two wines for curry week

This year marks National Curry Week's 20th birthday.

The event, running from 9th to 15th October 2018, seeks to raise awareness of and appreciation for the UK's Indian restaurant scene whilst also raising funds for charity.

Forget beer - here are two wines that will stand up to a curry; a well-made white Burgundy from Macon-Villages and a spicy South African red blend of Shirz, Mourvedre and Viognier.

Louis Jadot Macon Villages 2017 (£13.05, Tesco) match with a delicate korma curry

Zalze SMV 2016 (£10.00, Morrisons, Asda) curry pairing: tikka masala

Saturday, 8 September 2018

Barbecue Rosés from Virgin Wines

Two very different barbecue rosés from Virgin Wines

Barbecue food can be tricky to match with wine - pickles, relishes, sauces and charred, meaty foods do not go well with the subtle, nuanced flavours of complex wines.

So, where the event requires you to lead with the food and let the wine to pick up things afterwards, you can go one of two ways. Virgin Wines have addressed both options.

Go Neutral
If you just want a bland, pleasant palate cleanser, this neutral fresh, inoffensive Aussie pink is perfect.

16 Little Black Pigs Rose 2017 (£8.99)  pleasant, neutral and inoffensive with some soft red fruits followed by a bit of freshness, spice and minerality. Well-made and quaffable with a reasonable finish.

Will refresh the palate after strong barbecue foods.

Go Big
Alternately, you can Go Big and find something that will not only stand up to strong foods, but positively demands to be quaffed with grilled meat drenched in a sweet, sharp, sticky sauce.

This Zin rosé feels more constructed than made - it is Joan Collins in a power suit with shoulder pads, a blow wave and full-on make-up.

Big Top White Zinfandel Rose 2017 (£7.99) Big, American personality with sweet watermelon and strawberry fruit; like Joan, there is some class and depth underneath.

Will stand up to relishes and barbecue sauce.

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Anello Barbera 2016 - Virgin Wines

Virgin's barbecue wines - an Italian red from Piemonte

One of the great northern Italian reds, Barbera is very much a food wine. More specifically, it seems to demand rich beefy, tomatoey pasta dishes.

If you are having a berbecue, match this sharp, juicy red with a spicy sausage or a burger and tomato relish.

Anello Piemonte DOC Barbera 2016, Italy (£9.99) juicy, cherry and plum fruit with spice and some woodsiness; sharp and fresh with fine tannins. Good fruit, elegance and concentration - well-made and thoroughly enjoyable.

Classy and easy-drinking.

But don't just take my word for it, here's Matthew Jukes' review:

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Les Jamelles Reserve Mourvèdre - The Co-op

An exclusive Jamelles Mourvedre from The Co-op

Mourvèdre is the French name for Spanish grape Monastrell; also known as Mataro, it thrives in warm climates, producing big, but not necessarily jammy, wines with aromas of earthiness and wild game on top of lots of dark fruit.

It is, then, something of a diamond geezer - earthy and feral with a wildness of the countryside about it, but not without sophistication under the right circumstances.

In the Pays d'Oc area, it is often made into GSM blends with Grenache and Syrah; here, however, it has been given star billing.

Les Jamelles Reserve Mourvèdre 2016 (£7.99, The Co-op) expressive with ripe dark berries - elderberries, black cherries and blueberries - liquorice and garrigue herbs, vanilla and oaky spice. Supple texture and ripe, rounded tannins.


Match with rosemary and garlic roast lamb, darker game or barbecue sausages.

Monday, 3 September 2018

Gosnells of London - Mead

A modern take on an ancient drink from Gosnells of London

Part medieval, part hipster, mead is set to be the Next Big Thing - especially amongst those of a Bearded Disposition who "do" Craft Products.

If mead makes you think of men in tights running around with swords and drinking from goblets then you've not yet met the eponymous Tom Gosnell.

Urban, clean shaven and devoid of (visible) tattoos, Tom was introduced to craft mead on a trip to the US East Coast in 2012; by 2015, he was winning awards as a "mazer" (mead producer - do keep up).

Mead dates back around 9,000 years and in its purest form is made from honey, water and naturally-occurring yeasts, but like "sherry" or "curry" it is more a category than a specific product; it can be sweet or dry, fully-fermented or topped up with spirit, flavoured or not.

Gosnells mead is distinctly modern in style - light, dry and clean; it is fermented for three weeks, lending some complexity.

Gosnells Mead (£12.50 for 75cl, 5.5% alcohol - available at independents and online at Gosnells) fresh, clean, floral and citrussy with a flavour of orange blossom and beeswax; light, elegant and dry with a slight fizz.

A light easy-drinker, sip in the garden or as a different take on an aperitif;

Sunday, 2 September 2018

On Ukraine, Not Meeting Alla Plachkova and a Week of Drinking Differently

A summer trip to Ukraine

It is a little over 25 years since my first trip to Ukraine; in 1992, it was a newly independent country, somewhere on the cusp of moving from being Soviet Republic to becoming a brashly capitalist, Wild-East, oligarch's playground.

I had previously been to the Soviet Union, but had no real reference points - everything seemed very foreign, very backward and extremely chaotic; I could never tell whether the swathes of men in uniform and babushkas in headscarves that one came across constantly were there to maintain control or preserve the chaos.

I had been taught at university that Ukraine was essentially a province of Russia, its language a dialect, with at best its own local accent and regional identity. In this Russo-centric world, Ukraine was an unsophisticated peasant country, one where Stalin's holodomor of the 1930s was a crop-failure, rather than a deliberate act of state genocide against Ukrainians.
Historically, Ukraine is much older than present-day Russia; its capital, Kyiv, begat Kievan Rus' which itself was the origin of Russia, Belarus and modern-day Ukraine. Christianity came to Kyiv through the conversion of Volodymyr the Great in 988; it was only several hundred years later, with the Mongol Golden Horde in decline, that the younger and weaker city of Moscow was appointed capital of Rus'.

Like the Siamese fighting fish scene in James Bond, the Mongols knew that the Princely States of Rus' would first battle each other for local dominance before moving on to attack the retreating Horde.

Cynical, cruel and pragmatic; whilst the West was experiencing the Renaissance, the Mongols gave Russia extensive lessons in despotism.

Like any country born into strange and chaotic times, modern-day Ukraine has experienced the aftershocks and upheavals of newly-acquired statehood; revolutions in 1991 (independence), 2004 ("Orange"), and 2014 ("Euromaidan") have shaped the country's desire for a pro-European independence. Russian interference via the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the ongoing war in Eastern Ukraine show that it cannot yet fully escape the clutches of its past.

But the capital Kyiv now feels more or less like any other European city - in a good way - manifested by a pervasive and fundamental European openness to new ideas, as if there is no longer a need for the state to hold a monopoly on the truth, as if people can be trusted to get on with their own lives without constant oversight or interference.

With openness comes a greater sophistication, experienced as everyday-life improvements; gone are the dull, functional state shops, barking Russian tones and locally-made Ladas to be replaced with Ukrainian as the official, as well de facto, lingua franca, a European dress sense and the suburban, continental-style supermarkets with freshly-baked bread, cheese counter and aisle of wines. Order, openness and plurality; these are the cornerstones of a democratic country.


I was due to meet Ukrainian winemaker Alla Plachkova of Kolonist at upmarket wine shop GoodWine a few streets into the hinterland of central Kyiv; I had tried her wines previously in London (see here) and was sufficiently intrigued to set up a meeting. Unfortunately, a combination of public transport issues and poor travel advice left me waiting at a bus stop miles away and I had to send my apologies.

And so we drank local:

- Kvas; made from fermented black bread (usually, but there is also a white version) it is fresh, fizzy and yeasty with the flavour of dark rye bread.

- Coffee (and chocolates); from the Lviv Handmade Chocolate cafe. Once part of the Austrian Empire, Lviv has a long affinity with coffee on a par with Vienna (see here).

- Zhigulivske Videnske ("Viennese") beer; a malty, golden ale, crisp and saline with a lightly hopy finish. Clean, well-made and easy drinking.

- fruit wines; made from cherries and blackcurrants, these home-made wines were a revelation, fresh, intense and vibrant. Who needs grapes?

We also ate well at Very Well Cafe, just off Kreshchatik near Maidan Nezalezhnosti.

Food for the soul came from the various churches, cathedrals and monasteries - Saint Sophia's dates back to Kievan Rus' times and is UNESCO-protected; the gilded, baroque St Andrew's grandly overlooks the river Dnipro not far from author Mikhail Bulgakov's house (now a museum); Byzantine Revival St Volodymyr's is the mother cathedral of Ukrainian orthodxy and the Pechersk Lavra, the caves monastery, dates back to 1051 and is also UNESCO-protected.

Saturday, 1 September 2018

Viña Arnáiz Ribera del Duero

A fresh, energetic Ribera del Duero from The Co-op

Ribera del Duero is possibly Spain's greatest wine region that you have never heard of - almost unknown until the early 1980s, it is still hardly a household name.

With a harsh climate and high altitudes, it produces intense and vibrant wines with the colour and depth that come from a long growing season; with daytime temperatures in the mid-thirties, an overnight chill of low teens means that harvest can take place as late as October.

This combination of plentiful sunshine and diurnal temperature variation means a long, slow ripening period giving thick skins, intense freshness and lots of flavour.

Viña Arnáiz Ribera del Duero (£8.99) fresh, juicy cherry and plum fruit with spice and earthiness; very fine tannins; vibrant, focused and supple.


Match with rare red meat such as beef or venison, or even tuna steak.