You have to feel sympathy for Italian sparkling wine producers who don’t happen to make prosecco (except possibly those from Franciacorta who manage to charge much the same as champagne).
It must be hard trying to get the average punter to try something from another region. But here is one from Tuscany - and biodynamic and organic to boot - from the charming family-owned Fattoria La Vialla.
I visited them 8 or so years ago (you see the article I wrote here) and they never fail to keep in touch sending samples of new additions to their range they’re excited about (most recently this wine and some gorgeous grassy olive oil*). Fine for you, you might say, you’re a journalist but you get the impression from their delightful hand-written brochures they try to give all their customers the same level of individual attention. They sell direct so they need to but you feel they want to too.
This is a really quite unusual wine - a blend of pinot nero (pinot noir), chardonnay and verdicchio - not funky I hasn’t to assure those who are unconvinced by organic - but quite full, rich and savoury - unusually for a sparkling wine it’s 13%. It was fantastic with a fennel salami that came in the same parcel - something you wouldn’t expect of prosecco (parma ham is a better pairing). I reckon it would be good with many pasta dishes too.
You can order it by the 6 bottle case* direct from the estate for £56.70 or £9.45 a bottle which isn’t quite in prosecco territory price-wise but it's a great deal nicer than most sub £10 prosecco. It’s a wine I’d happily serve at a party or a summer wedding.
* which has unfortunately already nearly sold out.
PS The only slightly irritating thing is that you have to order a catalogue before you can place an order which is a bit of a faff. But be patient. It’s worth it.
After the excesses of the Christmas period I always reckon January drinking should be about quality rather than quantity with a small sip of something strong and flavourful being infinitely preferable to several glasses of something weak and bland.
Even though it’s generally considered a session drink I think that applies to beer too, hence my choice of this barley wine which I found when I was going through my beer stores and which I’m not even sure is still available.
For those who are not familiar with the style it’s a strong beer of at least 10%, designed for keeping - similar in style to a fortified wine like a madeira or tawny port
This limited edition bottle which was brewed in collaboration with Sigtuna brygghus in Sweden and aged in bourbon barrels is just luscious, deep amber-coloured, rich malty and slightly sweet - I’m sure I can detect some honey in there. It would be - as any barley wine would - a terrific match with cheese especially a strong cheddar or blue like Stilton or with a piece of old fashioned fruit cake like a Dundee - or as a nightcap though it's so intense I wouldn’t want much more than a third of the 33cl bottle. The 'drink by' date is not until February 2016.
Limited edition bottlings seem to be getting more popular - as they are with whisky ‘expressions’ - so you generally need to get in quick when they’re released. Apologies if you can’t get hold this one but it was so delicious I couldn’t resist flagging it up. Other barley wines would hit that late night spot too.
Not only a candidate for drink of the week but drink of the year, this small-batch Somerset vermouth is one of the most delicious products I’ve come across in 2014.
It was created by the award-winning Ethicurean, a restaurant in a stunning walled garden in Wrington, just outside Bristol. They started making it for their own cocktails but were pressed to bottle it for general sale.
It’s based on plants that are grown in the garden including bay, rosemary, sage, wormwood and yarrow along with foraged ingredients from the surrounding Mendip Hills such as rowan berries and scots pine. The team, headed by mixologist Jack Adair Bevan, uses them to make tinctures using an apple-based spirit distilled from organic cider apples, then blends them with a homemade caramel made from English sugar and white wine from Malvasia grapes from the Veneto.
The flavour is unusually warm and rich - less bitter than many vermouths - like a gloriously alcoholic marmalade. You can drink it on its own over ice with a fresh bayleaf as I did when I had a sneak preview of it at the Wells Food Festival back in October or use it in cocktails. (It apparently makes a great Negroni* though I haven't had a chance to have a play, a mean Manhattan and a pine Martinez with pine-infused gin though I'd probably leave that one to Jack.)
They also cook with it at the restaurant though that seems a bit of a waste. I can imagine it would make a great match with Stilton cheese or, more locally, Dorset Blue Vinney.
The Collector costs £31.45 from The Whisky Exchange, £34 from the restaurant and around £38 from independent Bristol wine merchants such as Corks of Cotham and North Street, Weber & Trings and Grape and Grind. (See here for other stockists and bars which serve it) A lovely Christmas present for someone who appreciates quality drinks.
*Using less Campari than usual according to their Facebook page - 25ml good gin, 40ml The Collector Vermouth and 10ml Campari
For other last minute gift suggestions see here.
Yes, you did read that right. It’s not April 1st. It’s not a misprint. A dog beer. A Belgian beer for dogs. It doesn’t actually have any alcohol I hasten to reassure you but it does smell vaguely beery.
As soon as I found out about it I thought I must give it a try. Or rather that I must find some dogs to try it out on. My neighbour up the road who has three dachshunds and a couple more she was dog-sitting obliged. They went absolutely nuts for it.
There are two flavours, the original version which smells and tastes vaguely like dilute Marmite and a chicken version*. It’s hard to say which they preferred - they fell on them both.
You can buy Snuffle in the UK in specialist online pet stores such as astarpets.com at around £10 a four pack** (see the website for stockists). It’s also widely available in Belgium, Holland and - somewhat randomly - Greece.
I'm guessing it would pair with a bone . . .
* it's apparently made with beef or chicken and malt barley extracts, mineral oils, vitamin B and other “doggy goodies”. Having tasted it before I read the bit about it not being suitable for human consumption I’m not sure I want to know what those are. Apparently we should have also shaken the bottle before pouring it which would presumably have made it even meatier. But the dogs didn’t seem to care . . .
** The manufacturer recommends no more than half a 25cl bottle for small dogs, 1 bottle for medium-sized dogs and two bottles for a large dog. Jack (right) obviously hopes we will overlook this advice and begs for more.
One of the problems about buying wine these days is that there’s just too much choice. But if I had to stick to just one wine this Christmas it would be this gutsy red from the Rhone.
It comes from a large but obscure appellation called Grignan-les-Adhémar (formerly Coteaux du Tricastin) in the southern Rhône but, as a typically Mediterranean blend of grenache and syrah it could easily pass for a good Côtes du Rhône Villages). The big draw - assuming you’re a member of the Wine Society - is the unbelievable price. It’s just £6.95 which for such a handsome-looking bottle is a complete steal.
I fell in love with the 2012 vintage at the autumn tasting which was if anything even better but it sold out almost instantly and as I hadn’t tasted the 2013 I had to leave it out of my Guardian Christmas column next weekend. Now I’ve had the chance to try it I still think it’s a great buy and as I imagine other Wine Society members do too I’d get in quick if you want some.*
As I say it would go with practically anything in the way of Christmas food short of the mince pies - the turkey (a much cheaper alternative to Chateauneuf), Christmas ham, roast pork, roast beef, a hot game pie, the cheeseboard … With any luck you’ll still have a few bottles for the chilly days of January.
* And if you’re passing by the Wine Society’s shop in Montreuil you’ll get it even cheaper though you’ll need to pre-order it I seem to remember. For those of you who aren't Wine Society members, lifetime membership costs £40.