What will you be drinking in 2018?

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

Fun in The Sun!

From Bury Magazine July 2017

Can there be anything better than lounging around outdoors on a beautiful sunny day with a bottle of something cool, refreshing, and gorgeous chinking in an ice bucket? Having moved on from the days of youth when Summer drinking meant sitting in the park with a warm can of lager and perhaps a tepid rose (probably Mateus) for the girls. The key words now are quality not quantity, and that goes for beer and spirits not just wines. But as we’ve said many times before, quality doesn’t have to mean expensive. So we’ll be looking at some of the trendy drinks to be seen imbibing this Summer which won’t break the bank!

Wine blogs and websites in the US are full of the phrase ‘Brose’ these days and proclaim slogans like ‘I wish my boyfriend was man enough to drink rose’. In Europe there’s never been a stigma about men drinking rose. It’s treated as a proper wine not as an affectation, and there are some great rose wines around to buy in the UK at the moment. A rose is a type of wine that incorporates some of the colour from black grape skins, but not enough to qualify it as a red wine. It can be made from many grape varieties and tends to be made wherever both red and white wines are produced as separate wines. Rose wine makers from Bordeaux therefore produce Merlot & Cabernet Sauvignon roses, Spanish Rosado can be Grenache and Tempranillo, Italian Rosato may be Sangiovese, while rose from Argentina is made from Malbec. You get what we mean. Most of them are rarely expensive so give them a try. Traditionally THE place to get rose wine from is Provence in France. However, be warned, there are some shockers around from here too! The main grape varieties used here are Cinsault, Mouvedre and Grenache, but there are others. The real key is to get them when they are young, so definitely buy 2016 vintage Provence roses to drink this Summer. If money isn’t an issue then seek out one from the Bandol AOC region (Majestic Wines Domaines Ott Chateau Romassan Rose 2016 is fantastic but it is £30 a bottle!), but there’s plenty of good value roses to buy from other areas of Provence too. We’ve mentioned Thos Peatlings  Chateau des Bormettes Instinct Parcellaire Rose before, Decanter Magazine voted it one of the worlds top-10 roses and it’s half the price of the Bandol! A less expensive recommendation is Waitroses Esprit de Buganay Rose (£9.99), a pale pink rose with a great taste helped by the inclusion of Syrah grapes.

If white wine is more your thing then try wines that grow in areas with a warmer, what we call a ‘Summer’ climate. Italy produces great regional wines made from local grape varieties. On a recent trip to Sicily we were impressed with wines made on the volcanic slopes of Etna, but they are difficult to find here. What is available however is Sicilian wine made from the Grillo grape. Wonderfully fresh flavours with a minerally dry acidity. The Wine Society’s Grillo Terre Siciliane Vino Biologico Paolini 2016 is great value at £6.50 or the even better value Castellore Grillo/Sauvignon Blanc blend from Aldi at an amazing £4.99

But in 2017 Summer drinking isn’t all about wine. For the first time in many years beer production in the UK has risen, and it’s not down to the big brewers of traditional British beer. Microbreweries and ‘craft beers’ are leading a revolution in beer production. Exactly what makes a beer ‘craft’ is difficult to answer. Generally it is beer made in a traditional way by a small producer, but it’s also agreed that there is something innovative about them too, particularly added ingredients such as herbs, different specialist hops, fruits and other things (beer made with bacon anyone?)  At first it was the very hop-heavy IPA producers who led the way, Scotland’s Brew Dog brewery being one of the most successful with their Punk IPA and numerous seasonal beers. Now most supermarkets have a craft beer section and we heartily recommend trying beers from Brew Dog, Brooklyn Brewery, Goose Island and others this Summer. If these and other European beer styles are your thing then you can’t miss a trip to the fabulous Beautiful Beers in St Johns St, Bury, a heaven for beer drinkers!

Spirits have also been the big deal in the drinks world in the past couple of years, particularly the growth of gin. It used to be a selection of three or four gins available but now there’s ‘craft’ gins galore and they are all very different. Gin has to be juniper-flavoured initially, but after that anything goes. Our personal favourite (this week anyway!) is Pink Pepper Gin from France, but we also like Monkey 47 Gin from Germany (both widely available but try Gourmet Goods also in St Johns St, Bury for a good selection). And did you know that Bury has its own Gin distillery? The Stillery ‘Speakeasy-style’ bar in Short Brackland, Bury, not only serves great gins from around the world put produces its own gin on-site. You can see the still from the bar and it’s great fun! And course, it must be Fevertree tonic to go with it!

With its Caribbean heritage, it’s little wonder that when the sun’s out, the rum’s out! Another spirit that has enjoyed a renaissance (a rum-revolution if you like), rum not only tastes great on its own with ice but it’s fantastic for mixing too. Mojito’s or Dark & Stormy’s are just right for a Summer sundowner! While Scotch Whisky sales drop in this country, its American Whiskey or Bourbon that are becoming more popular with the younger crowd. They are a bit sweeter than Scotch, which like rum makes them good for mixing. Try something different though from the usual Jack Daniels and Jim Beam. If you want it on its own try Woodfords Reserve, more like a malt whisky, but if its a mixing bourbon you want then try Four Roses, a self-proclaimed craft bourbon from Kentucky. It was the house bourbon at last months Red Rooster festival in Suffolk and went down a storm!

Whatever your drinking this Summer try it outdoors, we guarantee that it will taste better!

Kiwi’s score in Bury

Anyone who thinks that all the New Zealand wine industry produces is case after case of ‘cats pee on a gooseberry bush’ Sauvignon Blanc should have attended our Family of Twelve tasting at Thomas Peatling Fine Wines in Bury St Edmunds recently. The Family of Twelve is a fraternity of twelve of New Zealand’s most prestigious artisanal wineries who joined together in 2005 to promote the best of the countries wines. Rather than being in competition with each other, the members of ‘the family’ share information, both in regards to best practices in wine making and to marketing their products for the benefit of all.
The companies who are members are at the cutting edge of New Zealand wine-making and are all passionate about their craft and it’s this passion which shows through in their wines which are all, as their vision states, ‘beyond the normal’. The group of ‘rebel’ tasters who turned their backs on the ‘Dry January’ cult had twelve very different wines to taste and while there were two Sauvignon Blancs included in the list it was interesting that even these, both from the well-known South Island area of Marlborough, were very different from each other. The more ‘classic Kiwi’ Lawsons Dry Hills (£12.50 The Wine Society) with its intense fresh flavours was contrasted by the more subtle, complex Nautilus Estate (£13.35 Majestic Wines) offering. A widely acclaimed Chardonnay from Kumeu River Estate was very popular, with many people stating that it would give a top Burgundy a run for its money (£27 Majestic Wines).
One of the relatively new white grape varieties to New Zealand is Viognier, currently planted on a very small scale. This is one of the great aromatic grape varieties, famous in the Rhone Valley in Southern France. Millton Vineyards produce their Riverpoint Viognier in the Gisborne region on the East coast of the North Island and the blending of the main grape variety with some Marsanne, another Rhone variety, produces a great wine which in their own words is ‘a haunting wine with a bristling delicacy, buoyed with a noted mineral edge’. Great stuff, particularly at £13.75 a bottle (The New Zealand Cellar).
All of the white wines tasted scored very highly with everyone, and great things were expected of the red selection from ‘the Family’. If Sauvignon Banc is considered New Zealand’s signature white variety, then Pinot Noir is the most widely grown red variety because it is best adapted to the cool, maritime influenced climate. Four Pinot Noir’s were compared, ranging in price from Marlborough’s Palliser Estate Pinot Noir (£15.99 Winedirect.co.uk) up to the truly scrumptious Felton Road Pinot Noir Bannockburn from Central Otago (£29 Berry Bros & Rudd), but the real highlight as far as the red wines were concerned was the Craggy Range Syrah from Gimblett Gravels Vineyard in Hawke’s Bay, North Island. Deep coloured with mellow tannins and rich, ripe, berry flavours, it has a wonderful aroma of black pepper, cedar and herbs, with a fine long, stylish finish (£17.50 The Wine Society).
Past tasting indicate that Bury wine drinkers tend to love bigger, full bodied wines and the final wine of the evening, from the largest producer of the Family of Twelve, the well-known Villa Maria, didn’t disappoint. I’m sure that everyone has tasted Villa Maria’s Sauvignon Blanc before, it’s in virtually every supermarket range, but we recommend searching out some of their red offerings. Villa Maria Reserve Gimblett Gravels Cabernet Sauvignon/ Merlot is a great Kiwi version of a Bordeaux-style blend with ripe tannins and a good finish which was tested by our tasters with one of our many ‘tips’ on how to taste wine involving the group counting how long the taste lasts while sitting with their mouths gaping wide to allow oxygen to get into the mouth – sounds odd I know but that’s the kind of thing we get up to in our wine tastings that make them fun as well as educational!
The Family of Twelve concept of smaller producers joining together to collaborate in the marketing of their wines is a good business concept, and their enthusiasm for their products has been duplicated by their neighbours ‘Australia’s First Families of Wines’ to great effect. With the UK’s growing reputation for top-class sparkling wines its perhaps a model that they could follow. Who’s up for the ‘Family of Fizz’?

Citizens Advice tasting in BSE

Happy tasters at this weeks event in BSE