Our column in ‘Bury’ Magazine for Feb 2018
To those people who followed a ‘dry January’ regime welcome back to the fold! I’m sure that you’ll be relieved to hear that your correspondent failed to follow this fad believing that the shock to the system would be far more harmful than any damage caused by enjoying a drink, and be assured I’m still searching for that responsible person that we should be enjoying drinking alcohol with! Perhaps they are hiding like a genie at the bottom of a bottle? There’s only one way to find out…… open another bottle!
But a bottle of what? What are the trendsetters predicting will be the big thing in drinks this year? Let’s look at what some industry gurus are suggesting will be the drinks to be seen with in 2018
Gin, or more specifically ‘Craft Gins’ have undoubtedly been the biggest growth story of the past few years and its dominance was confirmed in the UK by overtaking whisky for the first time as the largest selling spirit of the year with over 47 million bottles sold in the UK alone. But what’s the difference between ‘craft’ and ‘classic’ gin? Simply put gin is a neutral spirit that is infused with herbs and spices (known as botanicals). Classic gins have Juniper as their prime (sometimes only) botanical flavouring. These are often known as London Dry Gin although strangely they can be made anywhere in the world and include old favourites such as Gordon’s. The more contemporary craft gins (‘craft’ really means just small-scale but that definition seems now to refer to anything that’s ‘different from traditional’) use a whole variety of botanicals, sometimes lots of them at the same time – the popular Monkey 47 Gin from Germany contains, not surprisingly, 47 different botanicals while the prime botanical in the French Pink Pepper Gin is, you guessed it, pink peppercorns! Gourmet Goods in St John’s St, Bury stock over 80 different artisan gins with flavours such as Spit-Roasted Pineapple, Chocolate, Rhubarb, Honeybee and the local Suffolk Distillery’s Mandarin & Cranberry Gin. Associated with the Craft Gin boom is what you put with your gin with the growth of Premium Mixers such as Fever Tree who experienced a 77% growth in 2017, and there’s the growth of extravagant garnishes such a herbs (rosemary and borage are popular), cucumber slices, dehydrated fruits, lime leaves and a variety of weird and wonderful savoury garnishes – move over ‘ice and a slice’!
But will 2018 see the end of the gin boom? Well if it does then the spirits that seem set to take its crown are Rum in all its different forms from clear white to black sticky spiced rums, particularly popular in cocktails but also growing as a spirit to drink on its own, but we’ll take a punt on Tequila being the spirit to be seen drinking in 2018. But hold that salt and lime, its premium sophisticated sipping Tequilas, and particularly super-premium aged examples, that will be this years’ thing. They are already getting the celebrity endorsements and be prepared to search out brands such as Tequila Ocho (around £30 a bottle), Patron Silver (£42) or even the super-premium Fortaleza Añejo (£130) if you want to experience the real thing. But the real hipsters amongst you will go one step further and demand Mezcal rather than Tequila. What’s the difference? Well Tequila is made using only the Blue Agave plant while Mezcal can be made using upwards of 30 different varieties of Agave, but beware, Mezcal can also contain the Maguey worm!
Before we get onto trends in wines there’s also the way that we buy and package wine that is changing in 2018. Waitrose are launching a whole range of half-bottles while on the other hand predicting a growth in the sale of Magnums (two standard bottles) and even larger over-sized bottles. Technology has also helped to improve the humble ‘wine-in-a-box’ and its now not just cheap plonk that appears in this format (‘Cardbordeaux’ some wags call it), and again its Waitrose that is leading the way with 10 different wines offered in a box.
But what wines should we be seen drinking in 2018? For a start there’s definitely a trend in lower alcohol wines, but don’t fall for those where the alcohol has been reduced or even removed completely after fermentation. They are generally horrible tasting although we have been pleasantly surprised by the Sumika range of low alcohol/low calorie wines in M&S, particularly their South African Sauvignon Blanc. There’s plenty of wines that naturally have a low alcohol levels and these are usually produced in cooler climates such as Germany and Austria or regions such as the Hunter Valley in Australia (particularly those made from the Semillon grape) which are far better tasting.
Which countries are set to be the fashionable wines in 2018? Well we’ve recommended Sicilian wines a lot in the past and this stunning island in the South of Italy seems like a good bet to be the hip wine to be seen with this year. Wines made from the Grillo (white) and Nero d’Avola (red) grapes are fairly easy to find but we suggest you particularly try to source those from the volcanic Mt Etna region. The Wine Society has a great white made from the local carricante and catarratto grape varieties (Etna Bianco Fondo Filara 2016 £12.50) and Waitrose Cellars has the delicious Etna Rosso Diciassettesalme 2015 at £22.50, a wonderful fruity yet acidic red.
Other predictions we have seen is a resurgence of Sherry drinking (but we’ve heard that before), particularly with fine Fino styles, sparkling wines specifically designed to drink with ice; even the grand Moet & Chandon have one called Ice Imperial, but the only trend that we can guarantee is that wine will go up in price this year. Bad weather affected most of the main European wine growing regions and all have reported much lower yield than normal. Californian vineyards were ravaged by wildfires, and the exchange-rates caused by BREXIT uncertainty have not been kind to us either.
But whatever you drink this year let it be good! Let us know what you’ve discovered and we’ll let the rest of the good people of Suffolk know too! And if you want to make 2018 the year that you learn more about wine then contact us too for details of wine courses and tastings. See www.suffolkwineacademy.co.uk