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Monthly Archives: April 2017

  • Cinco de Mayo and the rise of tequila

    Cinco de Mayo – 5th of May – is a day of celebration for tequila lovers the world over. So much so that many believe it to be Mexico’s Independence Day, yet in truth the day celebrates Mexico’s triumph at the Battle of Puebla over the French 155 years ago. General Zaragoza’s unlikely victory became a source of pride for the country marked with military parades and celebrations across Mexico, only overshadowed by the country’s actual Independence Day that occurred 50 years earlier on September 16th – let’s not mention the French coming back a year later and winning the re-match!

    Celebrations started in California after the victory in 1862 and continue to this day. The Mexican population living in America tend to celebrate it more than the people living in Mexico but they are also more likely to celebrate the 4th of July too as this is the national day of their adopted country. The holiday came into vogue in the 1940s and spread across the country, gaining real traction in the 1980s when beer companies, and indeed tequila brands, capitalized on the celebrations. The Americans just love to party and drink tequila and with the amount of tequila sold in America it is a big opportunity for the tequila brands to shift some bottles.

    Since the second world war tequila has become a big business in the US and the rest of the world. Moving away from the college ritual of a shot and a lime wedge into sipping aged liquids and cocktail serve has seen sales of tequila in the US rise from under a billion dollars in 2003 to over $2.5 billion in 2014, with the category growing year on year and the volume sold doubling between 2003 and 2016. In the UK a similar story is seen with a 37% increase in the past two years to £173million in 2016. London is often seen to lead trends in the alcohol industry and yet recent data shows that Yorkshire as a region has seen the highest growth in volume – up 16% on last year!

    Agave Farmer

    Tequila’s march forward into the psyche of drinkers across the world started with US colleges in the 1990s with mixto tequila consumed as a shot with lime and salt, becoming the ubiquitous party drink often seen in films. Yet today’s category growth is not in mixto tequilas but in more refined, premium tequilas made from 100% Blue Weber Agave, and also in more aged variants. This has thrown the category wide open with premium tequila becoming known for expressing terroir (the impact of the region’s soil, climate and environment on the flavour).

    Agave Field Landscape

    But what’s the difference?

    Mixto tequila, synonymous with house parties in the 90s, brightly coloured cocktails and university hangovers must contain a minimum of 51% Blue Weber Agave spirit, the remaining 49% made up of other alcohols – predominantly corn spirit used because it is cheap and easy to produce, and has a touch of sweetness. This mass-produced style brought tequila to the wider world and so we have a lot to thank it for.

    100% Blue Agave tequila, as the name suggestions is spirit made from 100% Blue Weber Agave, giving a cleaner, purer taste, and resulting a spirit that expresses the terroir in which it is produced. A key example is the difference between highland and lowland tequilas where the highland produces sweeter, floral liquid and lowland or valley tequilas have a distinct peppery, herbal taste. It is this arguably more artisan product that is now driving the growth of tequila in both the on and off trade.

    Whisky, cognac and other spirits have made a big deal about the maturation process and how this changes the nature of the liquid to make a richer, smoother spirit. Using different types of oak or other wood, placing the barrels in different warehouses, using different barrels that have contained other spirits or wines. All have an effect on the flavour of the spirit and of course add a nice dimension to the brand story.

    Many tequila brands now use this process to age and mature their liquid, releasing tequilas aged from 2 months to more than 7 years. Reposado tequila is aged for 2-12 months and gains a light amber colour with hints of vanilla on the palate; older Anejo tequila is aged for up to 36 months resulting in a deep golden amber hue and rich indulgent flavours of tobacco, caramel and leather much like an aged bourbon. Muy (extra) Anejo tequilas are becoming increasingly popular, aged for other 3 years with powerful whisky-like flavours. However, the price of such releases is high – in Scotland the ‘Angel’s Share’ of liquid lost to evaporation is relatively low (around 2%) a year, yet in the hot Mexican climate this is much larger, with the product ageing quicker but also with less product remaining each year. Care must be taken to avoid the delicate tasting agave plant being dominated by the oak, balancing the sweet spice notes from the barrel with the natural herbal flavours within the agave.

    Drinks for Cinco de Mayo don’t stop with tequila though – as it becomes more popular so do other regional variations such as Sotol, Bacanora and Mezcal. In particular, Mezcal has become a bartenders’ favourite with its richer, smokier flavour that is more robust and able to take on some stronger flavours. Produced from a range of agave plants that each impart certain flavours; it is definitely something worth trying in a cocktail.

    So, alongside sipping a variation on a classic Old Fashioned this Cinco de Mayo there are many other classic tequila mixed drinks to ease yourself in to the category, or to test the adaptability of Mexico’s greatest export.


    Tequila Cocktail Recipes

    Paloma - a delightfully refreshing summertime cocktail that is quick and easy to make

    50ml Reposado tequila

    15ml lime juice

    Grapefruit Soda, such as Ting!

    Simply build the drink in a tall glass filled with ice and garnish with a lime wedge.

    Dulce de Tequila - tequila candy in drink form with a lovely touch of sweet orange.

    35ml Reposado tequila

    15ml Cognac (VS/VSOP)

    15ml Cointreau

    10ml lime juice

    10ml agave nectar

    Shake all ingredients with ice and double strain into a chilled cocktail glass, garnish with a lemon twist.

    Tequila Old-Fashioned – aged tequila adds a smooth vanilla note to this classic cocktail.

    50ml Reposado or Anejo tequila

    1 teaspoon agave nectar

    2 slices orange

    Black Walnut Bitter

    Muddle the agave nectar and orange in a mixing glass, add ice and tequila and stir until well-chilled, slowly adding more ice if needed. Strain into an ice-filled old fashioned glass, add a few dashes of bitters and garnish with a thin slice of orange.

    And if you just have to shot the stuff, try it with an accompanying shot of verdita – a bright green, refreshing palate cleanser taken just before the tequila.

    To make a batch blend a handful of coriander, ½ the amount of mint, 2 green jalapenos, 1 litre of pineapple juice. Once blended well, chill for a few hours and it is good to go!

  • 50 years with Chateau Ste. Michelle

    Fifty years ago, a small winery in Washington State called Ste. Michelle Vintners introduced its first vintage of European-style premium wine, a Cabernet Sauvignon from the Yakima Valley. It was the release that inspired today’s thriving Washington wine industry. In those early days, however, few people recognised or understood the region’s potential.

    “I remember being asked, wine from Washington? What side of the Potomac do the grapes grow on?” says Ted Baseler, President and CEO of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates.

    Fifty years later, no one gets the joke. Washington is now America’s second leading producer of premium wine – just behind the Napa Valley – with more than 50,000 planted acres. As the state’s founding winery, Chateau Ste. Michelle is now the second leading producer of premium domestic wine sold in the US, with wine also exported to 100 countries around the world.


    Reflecting on the estate’s huge success over the past 50 years, Chateau Ste. Michelle Head Winemaker, Bob Bertheau says, “We are extremely proud to be the winery that helped create a world-class wine region and propel the explosive growth of Washington wine.”

    These days, the winery is best known for its award-winning Riesling, Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. However, Chateau Ste. Michelle was also the first winery to introduce international partners to Washington state. World wine luminaries sought partnerships with Chateau Ste. Michelle, including Piero Antinori of Tuscany (Col Solare), Ernst Loosen of Germany (Eroica), and Michel Gassier and Philippe Cambie of France (Tenet). The result of each of these collaborations have been wines of poise, character, and a compelling expression of two unique winemaking techniques working in harmony.

    To celebrate the significant milestone, Chateau Ste. Michelle has a number of things in store, including a commemorative Cabernet bottling, special events, library wine releases, a major visitor center expansion, and their popular Summer Concert Series.

    As for what the future holds, Bob Bertheau says it looks bright for both Chateau Ste. Michelle and Washington wine. “Vineyard plantings in the state are growing significantly, which will only continue to elevate the quantity and quality of Washington wine. In 2015, Washington State University opened the Wine Science Center, a state-of-the-art research and teaching institution, which will help develop future Washington winemakers and grape growers for decades to come.”


    Insights from field: Cyriaque Lajoinie, Enotria&Coe Wine Specialist

    What you enjoy most about Chateau Ste. Michelle’s wines?

    Their diversity of flavours, texture and their originality. Washington State wines have so much to offer by having the different terroir and vision from their winemakers. Every single estate has its own way of doing things, but they all have enough infrastructure to make great wines for all palates.

    Your favourite wine, and why?

    In my opinion, the best red grape in the state is Syrah, it makes wines with complexity and deep fruits, with a certain class. However, my favourite wine is the Eroica Riesling – the joint venture with Dr Loosen – it captures the steeliness and freshness of the East Washington State terroir, with the extra depth of the German Riesling savoir faire.



    Why do these wines work in the UK market?

    Chateau Ste. Michelle’s large range of wines can fit any list – from the gastro pub with the Dry Riesling by the glass, to the fine dining restaurant with their single vineyard Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon. They also work for the Independent trade, with the new additions to our portfolio (Motto Red blend and The Pundit), which are superb wines, presented beautifully.

    Also, consumers are always interested in tasting wines from this state; it makes a difference from Californian wines and their prices are more competitive than others on the market.

    The wine of Washington

    Washington wines are characterised by their balance of New World and Old World styles, which is largely due to the region’s diverse climate and diurnal temperature shifts. Generous amounts of daytime light and heat contribute to sweet, ripe, fruit-forward flavours (New World), while cold nights make for abundant complexity and acidity (Old World). Uniquely, the state is not defined by a single grape or even a group of grapes. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Riesling and Chardonnay all thrive in eastern Washington. Over 40 varieties are regularly planted and experimentation continues. Indeed, it is this diversity which is a key pillar of Washington’s wine culture.

  • When wine meets chocolate

    Words: Angela Mount "Its a tough job, but someones got to do it" is the phrase that sprung to mind when I set off on a quest to find out whether wine and chocolate could live together. Easter is looming and that means chocolate, and lots of it, so it seemed the right time to put this to the test.

    Can the two co-exist? I'm delighted to say that the answer is yes, but choose with care. Just like wine there is great chocolate, but there is pretty horrible, gloopy muck, full of greasy cocoa butter, and not much else too - if that's what rocks your boat, I'd stick with a cup of tea to accompany it.

    There is a world of exciting, artisan-crafted chocolate out there - from all over the world. I recently co-hosted a wine and chocolate pairing evening, with Spencer Hyman, who is as passionate about chocolate as I am about wine, and has set up an online subscription business for true choc lovers called Cocoa Runners. He and his team whizz around the world sniffing out the best bean producers and also the best chocolate-makers; his range is vast, encompassing chocolate bars from Brooklyn to Budapest, Cleethorpes to Saigon.

    For wine, it's all about the grape, the soil, and how you make it; with chocolate it's pretty much the same, which is why Great Western Wine have teamed up with Cocoa Runners to stock a wide range of chocolates, matched with specific wines. The chocolate range is broad, ranging from the darkest, most intense and highest cocoa content bars, to fudgy, creamy and unctuous milk varieties.

    So what works? The old adage is that you need to drink something sweeter than the chocolate itself - easily done, but a bit predictable. After an exhaustive and extensive afternoon of wine and chocolate-matching (I did say it was a tough job), here are my recommendations for you to enjoy the ultimate in indulgences - and yes, red wine can work with chocolate, and does so rather nicely, if you pick the right one. So throw your preconceptions aside and try a few of these with your Easter chocolate fest...

    Dark Chocolate

    This has over 70% cocoa solids, with depth and intensity, it's sweet yet has a balancing bitter note - think oozingly rich chocolate fondant. Rich, spicy red wines can work well here, as the balance between the sweetness and the bitter edge in dark chocolate marries well with an intense, voluptuous drink. Chilean Carmenere can be great, Viña Falernia Carmenere Syrah, 2014  was spot on. In this wine, one third of the grapes are left to dry out to a raisin-like state, which means the wine is richer and takes on an 'amarone' type of intensity, with truffly, mocha notes, powerful enough to balance the brooding intensity of dark chocolate.


    Milk Chocolate

    The world's favourite style; here, the milk content adds to the sweetness and luxuriously creamy texture. Australian-style Muscats generally work well, but can overpower with their exuberant personalities, but my two favourites in this category are lesser well-known sweeties. First up, a glorious sweet red, somewhere between a dessert wine and port. Bertani Recioto 2012 from Italy is my go-to choice. Its mix of cinnamon, spice, and candied peel, is silky, sumptuous and utterly indulgent. My other top choice was PX Bella Luna - almost syrupy in texture, sensuous and swooningly enchanting, with its decadent raisin, dried fig and toffee character.


    White Chocolate

    People either love or hate white chocolate. Its a mix of mainly cocoa butter, milk and sugar, often flavoured with vanilla. This is where traditional dessert wines work well, with their gentle, honey and caramel edges. Patricius Late Harvest Tokaji 2015 from the majestic Tokay region of Hungary is the style to fit the bill here, with its notes of acacia honey, honeysuckle and dried, candied oranges.

    To sum up, wine + chocolate = happiness.

  • Malbec World Day

    Why is Malbec World Day celebrated on 17th April?

    The origin of Malbec can be found in the southwest of France. Here they’ve been cultivating the grape and making wines with the appellation of Cahors since the days of the Roman Empire. During the Middle Ages, this wine grew in popularity, and this has only increased in modern times.

    Malbec arrived in Argentina in 1853 in the hands of Michel Aimé Pouget, a French agronomist who was hired by Domingo Faustino Sarmiento to carry out the management of the Agricultural Quinta de Mendoza.

    Modelled on France, the initiative proposed adding new grape varieties as a means to enhancing the national wine industry. On 17th April, 1853, with the support of the governor of Mendoza, a project was presented to the Provincial Legislature, with a view to establishing a Quinta Normal and Agricultural School. This project was approved by the House of Representatives on 6th September that year.

    In the late nineteenth century, with the help of Italian and French immigrants, the wine industry grew exponentially and with it, Malbec, which quickly adapted to the various terroirs, and developed with even better results than in its region of origin. Over time, and with a lot of hard work, Malbec emerged as the flagship grape of Argentina.

    For Wines of Argentina, 17th April was not only a symbol of the transformation of Argentina's wine industry, but also the starting point for the development of this grape, an emblem the country worldwide.

    According to Wines of Argentine, “Malbec is not just a wine. It is a fruit that generates work, individuality, culture and development. Each bottle is a declaration of what sets Argentina apart. Each bottle speaks of the hands, the dexterity and the soul of our men. This varietal expresses a way of doing things, a way of life; it involves technique, originality and passion. The deepest wines are born of the deepest longings of their peoples, those who reside in the heart. Malbec is the heart of our industry and continues to be our global ambassador.”

    It’s common knowledge that a glass of Malbec is perfectly accompanied by a hearty steak, but did you know the versatilty of this soulful wine extends far beyond red meat. To celebrate Malbec World Day, we bring you two surprising recipes to pair with Malbec.  


    Veggies + Malbec

    Porcini Mushroom Pasta

    • 1 cup dried porcini mushrooms soaked in 1 ½ cups of hot water for 1 hour
    • 400 gr pappardelle or fettucini (the egg-based varieties are best)
    • 2 garlic clove
    • 1 tbsp butter
    • 2 tbsp olive oil
    • 1 cup heavy cream
    • 1/2 cup red wine
    • 2 tbsp grated Parmesan
    • 3 tbsp chopped Italian parsley
    • salt and pepper to taste

    Bring some water to the boil and then pour it over your dried porcini mushrooms. This will make them nice and tender and bring out the full flavour of the mushrooms. Let them sit for at least an hour.

    Time cooking your pasta to be ready at the same time the sauce is – you’ll add it to the pan that you're making the sauce to saute together when it's ready. Put the water on to boil for the pasta, then get started on the sauce.

    Once the porcini mushrooms have soaked, drain them and save the water. In a deep sauce pan drizzle some olive oil and heat on medium. Crush the garlic and sauté with the butter and olive oil until fragrant. Add the red wine and let the liquid absorb. Then add the porcini mushroom water and simmer on medium heat for about 10 minutes. Now you can add the pasta to boiling water.

    Once the pasta is in the water, stir the cream into the porcini mushroom sauce and add your salt and pepper. Let it simmer and thicken until the pasta is cooked. Drain the pasta and rinse delicately in cold water to stop the cooking process. Now add the pasta to the sauce and toss or fold the pasta into the porcini mushroom sauce.

    Sprinkle with the Italian parsley and freshly grated Parmesan to serve.    


    ice cream person Chocolate + Malbec

    Dark Chocolate and Malbec  Ice Cream

    • 160g dark chocolate (90% cocoa solids)
    • 300ml double cream
    • 1/2 can condensed milk (approx~198ml)
    • 400ml of Malbec

    In a saucepan reduce the 400ml of Malbec on a medium heat until there's approximately 6-8 tbsps left, then set it aside to cool down.

    Break the dark chocolate up and melt it until it's runny and smooth. You can do this however you want, in a glass bowl over a saucepan of boiling water or in the microwave.

    In a large bowl, whisk together the double cream and condensed milk until you reach stiff peaks. Then fold in the chocolate and the reduced Malbec until it's all mixed in.

    Pour the mixture into a 500ml freezable container, you can buy disposable pots online, use a tupperware box or just pour it into a cake tin a la moi. Make sure you cover the ice cream with a lid or tightly wrap it in clingfilm, then put it in the freezer for 6 hours.

    Before you serve the ice cream take it out of the freezer for about 15 minutes to loosen up.

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