Archive for February, 2019

Hey, I’ve got this great idea; we’ll dress up some horses as zebras…

Friday, February 22nd, 2019

Fellow Wine Lovers,

A week full of surprises seems to have been the long and short of it. First surprise was really rather a pleasant one. The nice people in the Canary Islands have been sending us some of their wonderful weather, so, barely a minute after putting St. Valentine to bed for another year, it feels like spring has sprung.

In what should come as no surprise, news reaches us that restaurants and pubs suffered a slowdown in spending in January.  Not only were those who did visit only drinking water but apparently they wanted to eat only vegetables too!

There’s also a new movement afoot. It’s been creeping up on us for ages, lurking suspiciously in the background, a small but increasingly confident minority who may at some point be the mainstream. Until quite recently there were basically two pre-dinner drinks that were popular. On the one hand you had the folks that like to drink a glass of champagne or something bubbly in a flute. On the other hand there were the people that liked to have a beer, some chilled, some room temperature, but beer nonetheless.

But this emergent minority we mentioned above appear to prefer drinking a gin and tonic before dinner. Not only that, but they are also recruiting from both sides.  Champagne producers have spotted a fall in their sales and responded with a typically Gallic shrug and an increase in prices. The beer producers have grown their beards longer, shrunk their trousers, added more hops and started going to the same cool places you find gin producers. It’ll be interesting to see how this all plays out as something similar happened in the late 70’s/ early 80’s – but barely anyone drinks Babycham now!

On the politics front, in a rare show of humour, the Labour Party re-instated Derek Hatton for 48 hours. Theresa May has been in Brussels again this week, allegedly for negotiations but we’re starting to think she just goes for dinner at Quincaillerie or Comme Chez Soi on the government dime.

Otherwise some renegade former Labour MP’s (known in some circles as The Hateful Eight) have joined up with some renegade Conservative MP’s  (known in some circles as the Three Amigos) to form a mixed commons football team called Independent Group. To what aim remains unclear as they have nobody to play with but rest assured we’ll keep you abreast of developments.

On the science front, scientists believe they have discovered why zebras have stripes and it’s nothing to do with running faster. It would appear the stripes are there to confuse flies. After dressing several horses up in zebra outfits it was discovered that the poor flies are too confused to land because of the stripes. To us this seemed like something you’d dream up after a long and challenging afternoon in the pub… “Hey, I’ve got this great idea; we’ll dress up some horses as zebras…” Kudos definitely goes to the person that managed to sell it to the funding committee.

That’s quite enough guff from us for this week except to say that we’ll be opening a couple of Portu-Geezers on the tasting table this weekend.

Wearing the white waistcoat will be Ai Galera Mistico 2017 (£8.79). It’s a cracking blend of Fernão Pires and Verdelho from the Tejo region.

Adorned in the red slacks will be its sibling Ai Galera Poetico 2017 (£8.79). Funnily enough, it too is from the Tejo region, but sports a blend of Castelão, Trincadeira Preta and Tinta Miúda.

So there you have it, a weekend of lovely weather and five indigenous Portuguese grape varieties to tantalise the taste buds.


What, no Six Nations this weekend?

Friday, February 15th, 2019

Fellow Wine Lovers,

Tidied up all the rose petals?  Paid off the a cappella group and the mariachi band and the Whitney Houston impersonator?  Washed up the champagne flutes and lobster picks and wondered to yourself –well, how did we get here already?  I know we have…

Two sessions into the 6 Nations, Valentine’s Day behind us, half term starting today, the mercury hitting 15 Celsius yesterday afternoon, daffodils in the shops, sunset after 5pm – all these factors can only, surely, mean one thing – that spring is well and truly on its way!  I’ve even tasted a variety of rosés this week and last, with a view to what to have on our shelves this summer, whilst Wayne has been ironing his shorts and talking about cycling.

It really does seem that not a huge amount has happened in the world this week.  Brexit rumbles on but still flatters to deceive; as discussed, Valentine’s day passed in a flash of consumerism and for us, cheese; rugby continues to surprise and delight us; our Poundland George Best, Wayne Rooney, gets drunk and embarrasses his wife and family, quality bloke; in St Lucia, we win the last (irrelevant) Test match before an Ashes Summer, having lost, comprehensively, the previous two and yet somehow this is being lauded as a huge boost – did none of the journalists watch in Barbados or Antigua?

So, with little to light our candle on the news front, let’s talk about Gin shall we?  We have all watched in awe as the juniper infused potion, which was once firmly confined to the drinks globe of retired Rear-Admiral’s in Plymouth, has become the darling of the cocktail classes.  According to figures released by HMRC this week, the value of gin exports has more than doubled in value since 2010 and overall sales of gin, here and abroad, have now topped £2.5 billion.  Clearly it’s not just Hepple making all this money, or even Beefeater, it’s the whole shooting match from the big boys at Diageo down to the wee fella on Garratt Lane.

For those of you familiar with Garratt Lane, particularly the stretch near the station, the name Ben’s Canteen will no doubt be familiar.  For years this corner site was home to Willie Gunn’s Wine Bar, a popular haunt for long lunches and lost weekends.  We used to sell an indecent amount of Plymouth Gin to this bar but it closed its doors in 2014 and was soon taken over by Ben’s Canteen, a business already established up in Clapham Junction looking to spread its wings. 

Anyway, that’s enough history, what is important for now is that these forward looking chaps have started to make their own gin, on the bar, in the bar.  It’s a proper micro-distillery, by all accounts they produce about 40 bottles per batch, which we imagine just about covers their own requirements but when they have some spare they sell it to local people like us.

Thus Bloody Ben’s Signature Gin – £38 – or Earlsfield Gin as we keep finding ourselves calling it, is the newest kid on our block and is proving to be a bit of a hit.  I’m going to shamelessly lift the marketing blurb they gave me now:

The micro copper Gin Still in Earlsfield makes 30-40 bottles per batch. It’s a London Dry Gin with Wandsworth Honey and orange notes.

This gives it a Spanish theme. The local honey represents London living and the Sweet Orange Peel represents escapism, in our case time in Mallorca where the firm was inspired.

As well as G&Ts, the Orange peel makes it ideal for Negronis.


1.          Cloves

2.         Angelica Root

3.         Cardamom Seeds

4.         Liquorice

5.         Cassia

6.         Lemongrass

7.         Sweet Orange Peel

8.         Coriander Seeds

9.         Juniper Berry

10.       Honeysuckle

Ok, agreed, it’s a puff piece.  Our tasting note described it as a deliciously juniper forward drop with fabulous orange citrus and honeyed notes.  Significantly, it doesn’t taste like any of the other Gins on the shelf so it can carve its own niche.

We have a little open to sample and we have some stock so, if you’re of a mind, come and have a taste.

Wine open this weekend

As ever we realise that you don’t all want to taste gin so we’ll get some wine open too.

For the white lovers we’ll open Domaine de Vedilhan Viognier 2018 – £9.99.  This Languedoc estate belonging to the Fayet family based in the village of Moussan close to Narbonne.  The property has a small brook running around the outskirts which provides natural irrigation to give much needed water.  This gives the wines their freshness and appeal; keeping the vines cool in a very hot climate.  A flirty Viognier: shimmering hay and peaches with a lush viscous texture give way to a sensual palate of roses, pineapples and mangoes.  Delicious with Thai or fusion food, or some big, juicy langoustines.

And for the red heads we will taste Chateau Thieuley 2014 – £16.99.  Predominantly Merlot but with a healthy dollop of Cabernet Sauvignon, this Bordeaux estate has been family run since the 1950’s, now under the guidance of two sisters, Marie and Sylvie.  Marie is in charge of winemaking and Sylvie concentrates on the commercial side sensibly keeping out of each other’s way!  The wine has a lovely red plum character, a touch of chocolate and spice, medium to full-bodied with a long juicy finish.  Spot on with a Sunday roast or a steak even.

So, swing by and have a taste tonight or tomorrow and perhaps even see how the Cambria is getting along in the eto?

Dry January is just a distant memory of misadventure and misery

Friday, February 8th, 2019

Fellow Wine Lovers,

This week we feel we have discovered the mistress of the understatement:  Susannah Gill, a lady from London who has just broken the women’s record for the World Marathon Challenge.  She ran seven marathons in seven days, enjoying the chill of -35˚C in Antarctica and toasting her toes in 35˚C in Cape Town, before finishing the feat in Miami. Her average time was 3hrs 28mins per marathon  and afterwards, Gill admitted the challenge of running successive marathons in Antarctica, Cape Town, Perth, Dubai, Madrid, Santiago and Miami in the space of a week, while having very little sleep, “had been tough”.

In other news this week, Brexit seems to continue to dominate the front pages, despite Liam Neeson’s best efforts. We saw that deals had been signed with the US and Chile on the wine front, ensuring no disruption of supply. Meanwhile, Theresa May got some more points on her Eurostar loyalty card, popping over to see her old mates for a quick chinwag in Brussels. The real news in Europe, aside from all the clickbait stories surrounding Brexit, is that France has recalled their ambassador to Rome after the Italian Deputy Prime Minister met leaders of the Gilet Jaunes. Finally, we were amazed at Donald Tusk’s suggestion that there may be a special place in hell; we’d always thought it was amongst the small print on the terms and conditions you click for new software.

I don’t know about you but if the rest of the games in the Six Nations are as exciting as last weekend, we are in for a treat. If France turn up for both halves on Sunday it should be quite a game; on Saturday, Scotland will host an Irish team keen to make a point and a much changed Welsh side travel to Rome.

On the football front, Tottenham have had another knockback on their stadium which is great news for Arsenal as they will get a game at Wembley this year after all!

Often at this time of year we turn some of our attention to the horses, it is barely a month till Cheltenham, a festival which holds a special place in our hearts. Disaster struck this week though, as up to 100 stables are on lockdown following an outbreak of equine flu. So if you see horses on the common, stay away from their sneezes!

We’ve been spotted on the tube by several of you so we’ll come clean and tell you that we’ve been out and about on the town tasting again this week. We like to think of it as working, I’m sure you all have a view. Tuesday saw us on a trip to Vintners Hall.  It’s always a joy to go along to ‘Head Office’ as it were. We tasted a selection of tasty morsels, a couple of the new vintages of old favourites too. Thursday saw us in the function space at Oxo Tower where we managed to whizz round in superfast time despite bumping into a few old chums. We tasted a Sauvignon Blanc IN A CAN!  Can you believe it? The wine trade, full of stuffy old geezers with red trousers and Beaumes de Venise aftershave, has put Sauvignon Blanc in a can! I have to say it tasted fine, and we wondered if it might be just the thing for a picnic, come summer?

If the raucous, and occasionally ribald, Italian tasting we hosted last night is anything to go by, most of us are well over being abstemious and Dry January is just a distant memory of misadventure and misery. Just in time too because we have the celebration of Saint Valentine to contend with next week and, frankly, there is nothing better to help you get through that mountain of cards from secret admirers than a long stiff drink!

With this in mind we’ll have a couple of wines open this weekend with very loose connections to February 14th.

In the white corner we’ll have a pink fizz which, whilst clearly not white, is often a winning choice on Valentine’s Day – Domaine du Landrau Cremant de Loire Rosé – £15.99 which, as we all know but I’ll remind you, is a blend of Grolleau and Cabernet Franc.  Delicious, with a fine mousse, crisp fresh raspberry tinged fruit and a lovely mouthfeel, this is a perfect aperitif and awesome with an indulgent pile of smoked salmon!

We looked around for a suitably naff red to link with Valentine but it seems we have no wines with hearts and suchlike on them and Meerlust just felt a tad inappropriate.  So the red representative this week is a wine from Valencia, made using grapes from forty year old Monastrell vines, which are then blended with a dollop of Cabernet Sauvignon.  It’s a mouthful of damsons and cherries and is a fab all-rounder from a food point of view. 

Its name?  El Bon Homme 2016 – £13.99 – for the good bloke in your life!

In the eto we have Cambria Benchbreak Pinot Noir (£27.49) from Santa Maria Valley in California – it’s been in there all week so we can see how it has got on under the rubber seal…

And now we must off – have a bon weekend avec your bon homme or bonne femme and batten down those hatches!

Welcome Back

Friday, February 1st, 2019

Fellow Wine Lovers,

Happy New Year to those of you who are just joining us – how’s it been for you so far?  How’s the marathon training going?  How many different Seedlip cocktails can you have in one evening without feeling bored?  How on earth did you manage to abstain from rich, robust red wine when the last few days have brutally demanded a warming glass or two by the fire?  Are you going to stay vegan?

Anyway, chapeau to all of you that did the Dry January thing – a momentous achievement and one that needs celebrating – but I imagine that, with 31 days of planning, such celebration is already underway; if you haven’t planned anything, I’m sure we can help!

It should be a good weekend for lots of kids as all they unexpectedly receive Playstations, Moncler jackets, brand new iphones, ponies, gold coated pain-au-chocolat and the James Charles palette – things that were just unrealistic dreams up to now.  Why? I hear you say.  Well, whilst these things were never going to happen in normal climates, news has now reached us that, in spite of Donny T’s twitter requests that global warming come back fast, the polar vortex has caused terrible mayhem in the Midwest with Michigan particularly hard hit and thus the neighbourhood of Hell, 200 miles east of Chicago, has frozen over – and we all know what happens then!

However, further research reveals that there is also a village called Hell in Norway, 300 miles north of Oslo and currently surviving on 5 hours daylight which we imagine spends much of its winter months frozen.  So, Hell regularly freezes over and another popular idiom bites the dust.  We’ll have to hope that this is the only idiom losing validity since the possibility of flying pigs is not what any of us want!

Elsewhere the high street is starting to produce some post-christmas casualties. 

Oddbins is up against it once again and this time I’m really not sure who can or will bail them out.  It’s a massive shame, especially for all those, like us, who wore Oddbins t-shirts for a number of years and who have that nutty little company to thank for putting us through our wine exams and teaching us the joys (?)of retail.  We still have friends there, friends who have worked their way from the shop floor to head office and who now face an uncertain future.  And the reason for the collapse?  Well, for some reason Brexit was mentioned, probably because it always is.  Regular currency fluctuations – yep, I can see those being a problem.  Cheap wine in the supermarkets, particularly the European based ones – I can see this also being an issue.  Online – again this is, we are told, the brave new world and it certainly has a huge impact on us paying for bricks and mortar.  Which leads us onto rents which absolutely have to be the biggest factor.  An average 17.8% rent rise at its 100 sites has proved to be insurmountable which isn’t really a surprise.  I still don’t get it, I would rather have my property occupied in perpetuity at a slightly lower rate but with a guaranteed income than the feast and famine style that a lot of landlords and letting agents follow.  We’ve got a rent review later this year – we’ll see what happens.

But it’s February now and there should be plenty of reasons to be cheerful.  We’ve got through the longest, darkest month and will quickly scoot through this short month  – before we know it we’ll be wearing daffodils and praising St David.  Also, February brings us the start of the Guinness 6 Nations which actually starts this evening with France v Wales.  Worryingly, I was due to go to the pub to watch this with one of my Welsh friends but he has now decided against it as he doesn’t feel it’s going to be a good night for the Wales gang – we’ll see.  Scotland host Italy and Ireland host England tomorrow – I fear there could be telephone number scores in both games and as such we’ll be watching through our fingers.  We’ll then finish off the weekend with a bit of gridiron as the New England Patriots take on the LA Rams, the east coast being tipped as the possible winners here in a tight contest – I’ll certainly start watching it, the question being will I remember to go to bed or wake up on the sofa at 4am?

For those of you not interested in the rugby, how about we distract you with a glass of wine?

As a departure from the norm we will have 3 bottles open this weekend – a red, a white and another red.  We’ll be opening the second red because we can keep it fresh for an extended period of time – yep, that’s right, our eto decanters arrived at the end of last week!!  You may remember we did a bit of trialling of the eto with Tom, the designer, two years ago.  Now, after much back and forth to China over the intervening months, the finished article is finally finished and the decanters are being shipped out – and to celebrate we’re going to christen ours with a bottle of…. Cambria Benchbreak Pinot Noir 2013 – £27.49. It’sfrom Santa Maria Valley in California and is medium-bodied, silky smooth and just the ticket for that crispy duck you had planned for Chinese New year next week, or maybe that roast pork on Sunday.

On a more everyday note we’ll also be opening two wines from South Africa. 

Doran Vineyards Chenin Blanc 2015 – £12.99 – since we listed this in November we have sold out of our stocks twice and that’s without ever putting it on tasting!  A barrel fermented Chenin from Swartland, with a crisp, fresh palate of ripe orchard fruits and a lovely long finish – this is an extremely elegant white at a great price.

Barton Rouge 2015 – £9.99 – we’ve been selling the 2013 vintage for the last couple of years and, a bit like the Chenin above, we never have it on tasting because it just sells so well anyway.  However, this is the new vintage so let’s see if we can get it some more fans.  A blend of Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mourvedre and Shiraz it has a delicious richness of fruit, good tannin structure and a bit of spice on the finish that make it the perfect foil to a hearty stew, a hunk of steak or a midweek spag bol!

That’s it from us, no excuses any more as January is now well and truly behind us, come and taste some wine and remind yourself what you’ve been missing! u