There hasn’t been a drink of the week for a couple of weeks so I’m making up for it and posting 3 really good gins I’ve tasted recently.
Death’s Door Gin
Considering it contains only 3 botanicals - juniper, coriander and fennel - Death’s Door, which is made in Madison, Wisconsin has a heck of a lot of flavour: a massive hit of juniper and citrus and an appealingly floral note of white jasmine. (Well, I got that - most people get herbs though that may be auto-suggestion from the fennel.)
The ingredients, except for the malted barley used for the base spirit, come from Washington state - the juniper berries and wheat both from Washington island. It’s a high strength gin (47%) which is recommended for a martini.
Monkey 47 Schwarzwald dry gin
This German gin goes to the other extreme and contains 47 botanicals including abelmoschus (a member of the mallow family), lavender, honeysuckle, jasmine, kaffir lime, lemongrass, spruce and “a secret weapon typical of the Black Forest”. I assumed from the taste that was cherries but apparently it's cranberries.
You can pick up that fruity note quite strongly: it tastes rather like an aromatic kirsch or cherry flavoured schnapps to me but the overall effect is still refreshingly dry. The producers recommend it in a martini again, a gimlet (interesting) or with tonic. (The Hanging Bat adds a dash of Bitter Truth bitters to theirs - I seem to remember it was celery but will let you know if that's not the case.)
Waitrose Heston Earl Grey and Lemon London dry gin
I’ve not been totally convinced by some of the Heston products for Waitrose I’ve tasted (the mince pies with pine sugar being particularly weird) but this is an absolute cracker.
It’s flavoured with bergamot but also contains other traditional botanicals such as citrus, almon, coriander, orris root, liquorice, angelica and, of course, juniper. The base spirit is made from potatoes - by Chase distillery in Herefordshire.
Very lively and lemony but the scented note of the bergamot is the one that comes out top. Only 40% and recommended with tonic*, so one for afternoon tea, I feel. £23 in selected Waitrose branches and online at waitrose.com and Ocado
* Fevertree, I suggest
We get so used to thinking of champagne as the ultimate fizz that it’s easy to overlook the many excellent sparkling wines that are made in other areas.
This is a bottle from an Alsace producer called Domaine Pfister that I opened yesterday uncertain if it would still be showing well. In fact it was absolutely perfect - with the attractively creamy character typical of a blanc de blancs but, softer, fruitier and more approachable than many champagnes that are made in that style. The blend is normally 50% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Blanc and 25% Auxerrois.
The estate is now run by the Pfister’s very bright, articulate daughter Mélanie who trained as a winemaker and is the the first woman in the family to take over the reins. The rieslings, which are drier than average, are good too.
The big surprise was how well it went with some early season asparagus and mayonnaise - by no means an obvious pairing - which suggests that it would be a food-friendly option with a wide range of dishes, including sushi I would guess. It’s apparently on the list at Zuma in London.
It would also be a good choice for a summer wedding.
You can buy it from TheDrinkShop.com for £103.77 a case of six (£17.29 a bottle), £110.50 a case from Winedirect and £19.95 from The Old Bridge Wine Shop in Huntingdon and Carruthers & Kent in Gosforth, Newcastle who I'm sure would do by the case deals too.
Price isn't the only issue though, particularly if you're buying in quantity. Deal with a retailer who can reassure you that they sell a significant amount. That way you can be sure they have a good turnover of stock.
One of the problems with choosing wine in a restaurant - especially if you're ordering for a crowd - is that you need to find a bottle that will go with a number of dishes but I find more often than not Italian whites come to the rescue.
Tasted on their own you might not rate them - they’re not the kind of wines to garner medals or stand out in a line-up - but they leap into focus with food.
This Verdicchio, which a large (and noisy) group of us drank yesterday at the Bristol restaurant Flinty Red, is a perfect case in point. Beautifully crisp and refreshing, it had no obvious fruit flavours beyond a hint of citrus but was the perfect easy-drinking companion for a range of dishes including mozzarella di bufula with radish, mint and black olives and a coniglio tonnato - rabbit with a light tuna sauce with a touch of tarragon. It would also work well with seafood and fishy pasta dishes like spaghetti alle vongole and even handle tricky-to-match artichokes.
Sartarelli, which is based in the village of Poggio Dan Marcello in the Marche, is a Verdicchio specialist - the Verdicchio dei Castelli de Jesi is their best-selling wine. You can read more about the domination here.
It cost a very reasonable £26 on the winelist or £10.99 to buy to drink at home from Flinty’s sister company, wine merchant Corks of Cotham. You can also buy it from £11.95 from branches of Caviste in Hampshire.
Judging by the number of champagne offers you see around this time of year the supermarkets clearly think we’re going to on the bubbly this Easter but I’ve got a more offbeat suggestion: a cracking beer from my favourite local brewer, The Wild Beer Co.
It’s called Ninkasi which they say is named after an ancient Greek goddess of beer (hmmm. Really?*) and is a sparkling Belgian style saison, blended with apple juice and fermented with champagne yeast. (The brewery is aptly named.)
You’d think from that it might taste like cider but it doesn’t - more like a fresh, appley but generously hopped pale ale crossed with a witbier. Utterly delicious. You could happily drink it as an aperitif instead of champagne or other sparkling wine (it would be great with some smoked salmon nibbles) but I think it would also take you through a roast chicken, pork or a posh main course like salmon en croute. It’s a substantial 9% ABV.
I also like the fact it’s bottled in a full-size bottle with a wax seal which makes it look very celebratory
You can buy it in and around Bristol** and online from Beer Ritz for £7.28 a bottle (or six for £43.70) Obviously that won’t get it to you in time for Easter but think of getting some in for the coming months. It would great for a wedding.
* I’m wrong. There is a Mesopotamian goddess of beer according to Wikipedia.
**Both Corks of Cotham and Grape & Grind have stock at the moment at £6.49 and £6.99 respectively. I suspect that will increase given the demand for it. It seems ridiculously good value for a craft beer of this quality.
If you’re one of those people who get off on the rarified byways of the wine world this bottle is for you - for what could be more obscure than a Chinese ice wine?
Chinese? Yes that’s right - and stocked by a UK retailer to boot: the enterprising Berry Bros & Rudd whose Dickensian shop in St James’s Street and status as a Royal Warrant holder disguise the fact that they’re one of the smartest, most savvy wine merchants out there. They were one of the first into China and now have a 13-strong team in Hong Kong which acts as their hub for the whole of Asia.
The Gold Diamond Label ice wine is one of three from China’s biggest producer the Changyu Pioneer Wine Co. and is made in the remote region of Liaoning in Huanlong province. It’s made from Vidal and is reminiscent of a Canadian ice-wine - unsurprisingly as there is input from a Canadian producer. Probably Inniskillin I would guess.
For an ice wine it’s not expensive (£79.38 for a case of six half bottles in bond*) and it’s really rather delicious: lusciously lemony with a touch of orange - more charming, I think than the more expensive Blue Diamond and Black Diamond bottlings at £151.80 and £286.80 per case respectively. You could drink it with a fresh fruit tart (strawberry would be best, I think) but it’s really one of those wines that is better sipped on its own. If you’re into torturing your friends with the wine options game it’s the perfect bottle.
There’s also a red Bordeaux blend called Chateau Changyu Moser XV I wrote about in The Guardian this week which I think is less likely to tempt you. There’s much better Bordeaux to be had at the price but Changyu has put down a strong marker of intent here, no doubt about that. China is already the eighth largest wine producer in the world and is set to be no 6 by 2016.
You can read more about the project on the Decanter website.
* The wines will be available in June 2013