Spirits and Liqueurs
I occasionally wonder whether we, as a Society, make enough of a fuss about our range of spirits and liqueurs. One supposes that the telltale ‘wine’ in our name precludes too much of a focus on other beverages.
Still, when there are bottles as delicious as Windholz’s Eau de Vie de Mirabelle on offer to members, I feel that some amount of fanfare is in order.
It was purely by chance that I tasted this particular Eau de Vie. A bottle had been opened in the tasting room and, as it always seems to me a great shame to miss any opportunity to taste, I poured a little into a glass and gave it a swirl.
I was immediately struck by the bright, fragrant nose. The scent was delightful: hints of pears, plums and a slight floral twist – I jotted down ‘violets’ in my notes. The palate is fresh and clean and dry with lovely fruit flavours: plum and pear again, but also a lick of cherry.
What struck me most, however, was the length of flavour. I remember sitting back at my desk some time later, letting my coffee turn cold because I was still enjoying the taste of the Mirabelle. Concentration, balance and freshness are all here in abundance.
This would make for a wonderful digestif, or perhaps to accompany some Turkish delight: I have a notion that the floral notes of each would complement each other perfectly.
Eau de Vie de Mirabelle, Réserve Particulière, Distillerie Windholz is currently available for the bin-end price of £34.50 per bottle (was £39).
As part of Saturday’s World Gin Day, The Cellar Showroom’s fine wine co-ordinator Conrad Braganza celebrates mother’s ruin
Not many drinks can claim to be British classics but gin definitely has my vote. It draws on so many ingredients or botanicals gathered from around the world to create the unique flavours I feel mirror British culture and history.
However, gin’s roots have a Dutch origin; indeed it is believed the word ‘gin’ is derived from the Dutch for juniper jenever, the common ingredient in all gins.
Along the way gin has been credited with making soldiers braver (‘Dutch courage’), helping the medicine go down (quinine was mixed with gin to counter malaria in the far reaches of the British Empire) and for the decline in morality (‘mother’s ruin!’) in the 18th century.
When I heard that Saturday 13th June was World Gin Day I felt obliged to offer my appreciation of this British institution. Where would we be without a Singapore Sling, a Tom Collins or the host of cocktails that use gin as its base? Let alone the quintessential long cool aperitif, a G&T.
At The Society we have accumulated a selection of gins. Traditionalist could try the citrus-dominated The Society’s Gin (GN91) with its classic juniper fragrance or for those preferring a bit more intensity try The Society’s High Strength Gin (GN101) with a with a higher natural alcoholic strength. Both are crying out for tonic, ice and slice, and for me a great partner to curries.
Taking a neutral spirit and adding a host of flavours to create a pleasurable drink is both and art and a science. Recently there has been a wave of small-batch gins on the market that are not only using the established botanicals, like liquorice root, coriander seeds or lemon peel, but also introducing other flavours such as elderflower and even samphire.
Using Northamptonshire natural spring water and a range of botanicals, including elderflower that imparts its characteristic fragrance, Warner Edwards Harrington Dry Gin (GN141) is a handcrafted smooth gin. Some of the ingredients are a secret, but it displays plenty of spice and ginger.
From Kent and sourcing the botanicals locally in the ‘Garden of England’ comes Anno Dry Gin (GN151), an artisan gin which displays the characteristic juniper and citrus notes but with a smooth spicy finish.
Not forgetting Sloe Gin (LR111), a delightful Yorkshire spirit with a cherry and almond palate, perfect sipped neat, as the alcohol is a modest 20%.
With summer round the corner, a refreshing cocktail or a classic G&T is on the cards. I will just have to gin and bear it, which really isn’t a hardship!
Burns Night is fast approaching, arriving this coming Sunday. In anticipation of the coming night here are some of my choices for wine and spirits to toast, and then drink alongside the glorious haggis.
Haggis is a very robust dish with strong meat and spice flavours. Any lightweight wines will therefore be well and truly drowned out. In my opinion, the best options are therefore full-bodied and spicy reds of the Rhône, Greece and Lebanon.
• Semeli Nemea Reserve 2010 (£10.95)
This is a wonderful example of agiorgitiko with firm tannins and red berry fruit. From a classic vintage in Greece this is a full-bodied and rich, yet fine and elegant wine that will continue to age for a further five years.
• Gigondas Chateau Raspail 2011 (£14.95)
This is classic Gigondas, full-bodied, richly textured, spicy with ripe and round tannins with just the slightest oak influence.
• Massaya Silver Selection Red 2010 (£17.50)
This cuvée is a blend of cinsault, grenache, cabernet and mourvèdre made with the help of Chateauneuf winemaker Daniel Brunier. This has wonderful blackberry notes with spice. It’s round, exotic and elegant with firm, ripe tannins.
• Chateau Musar 2007 (£22)
One of the great cult wines of the wine-world coming from Lebanon’s most famous producer. This cabernet, cinsault and carignan blend has bags of character, it is powerful and concentrated with dark berry fruit and spice. This should be peaking around 2022 and lasting until 2027, but is drinking fantastically now.
Of course, if you are able and willing to experience the occasion in the true, traditional way then there is no better option than Scotch whisky. Of course it is advisable to have some of Scotland’s greatest export on hand even if serving wine, for after the meal.
• Litre of The Society’s Special 16 Year Old Blended Scotch Whisky (£25)
If you are having a Burns Night party with the whole clan in attendance it may be an idea to keep aside the single malt and pass round glasses of this terrific blend. A blend of fine old malts and grains this has delicate smoke and honey here, with complexity and length reminiscent of far more expensive drams.
• The Society’s Exhibition Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 12 Years Old (£32)
For those looking to splash out (hopefully retaining some liquid in the glass) this is a wonderful option from the Society’s Exhibition range. This 12 year old malt has classic Speyside qualities of wonderful dried fruit, sweet spices, nuts and citrus fruits.
Trainee Campaign Manager
Many pleasant discoveries have been stumbled on by chance. This is all too true in the culinary world (Lea and Perrins Worcestershire sauce for one!). Legend has it that noble rot’s effect on grapes to make sweet wine was a similarly accidental discovery.
To these, add Pineau de Charentes.Over 400 years ago, or so the tale goes, unfermented grape juice was poured into what was believed to be an empty vat, but which actually contained brandy.
Upon returning to the cask after several years, the resultant mixture was found to be extremely palatable and a Pineau de Charentes was born.
Now this wonderful accident has its own appellation stating amongst other things that it must be freshly harvested grape must and year-old cognac, and be aged for a minimum of 18 months (12 of which must be in barrel).
The festive season seems to be the perfect period for Pineau. Amber in colour and with the warmth and depth of Cognac and an appealing sweetness, the beauty of this blend to me is it can perfectly book end a meal.
Chilled it offers itself up as an ideal apertif, but then is equally at home as a companion to cheese, especially blue cheese, or even when presented with puddings, including those that contain chocolate.
Indeed, Pineau can also be added to the meal in sauces which, along with its ability to be left open for a few days, makes this a worthy addition to the season’s drinks cabinet.
So over the next few weeks, whether you’re looking for something to sip prior to a meal, during a meal or even after the meal, why not enter into the sprit?
Should you wish to join me in doing so, we offer a Pineau from Château d’Orignac (£16 per bottle) that combines Cognac with the must of red grapes to produce a special drink.
The Cellar Showroom
A few years after starting work at The Wine Society, I was presented with a bottle of brandy by my dad (not a common occurrence, I hasten to add).
Knowing that no one in my family were members of The Society before me, I asked the obvious question: Where on earth did you get this, dad? ‘It came from my father,’ was the answer. ‘I think he once had a job in some wine cellars.’
My grandfather, a Swiss immigrant, set up home in central London. He took various jobs locally and my dad and I developed a theory that one of these was as a cellar man at the nearby premises of The Wine Society in Hills Place (under the London Palladium), just off Oxford Circus.
The Society moved out of London in 1965 and by the time I took a job here in Hertfordshire, my grandfather was long dead, so there was, unfortunately, no opportunity to check our theory. My dad was unable to pinpoint exactly when his father had worked at that wine company.
Roll forward to 2014 and, hunting through The Society’s archives in search of some interesting snippets from committee meeting minute books, I came across an old Wages Ledger. I couldn’t resist flicking through it and within ten minutes, lo and behold, I found an entry from January 1957 for a Cerroti, E (for Emanuele), earning a weekly wage of £7.
What I would give for an evening with my grandfather to uncork his brandy and compare our experiences of working for The Wine Society!
Head of Member Services
Todays news is that the world’s oldest Speyside malt whisky has gone on sale for up to £10,000 a bottle. It is Mortlach 70 year old which was filled into cask 15th October 1938 and bottled exactly 70 years later.
Wine Society members may not be able to lay their hands on a bottle, but we do currently offer an 18 year old 40% Mortlach and a 19 year old natural strength 55% Mortlach at £21 and £29 respectively. What a bargain!!