Archive for February, 2020

Single manning

Friday, February 28th, 2020

Fellow Wine Lovers,

It all started in 2010 and the Iceland volcanic eruption – Eyjafjallajökull to give its correct name – I was about to say easier to spell than say but now I’m not so sure about that… Anyway, all that way back in 2010, I was fortunate enough to be on the Island of Madeira whilst all flights were grounded and got an extra 5 days holiday courtesy of someone else’s insurance.

Well, they say that elephants never forget but our proboscis faced friends have nothing compared to my business partner.  Since my extended ‘break’ almost a decade back he has endeavoured to get his own extended holiday – for example last year he purposefully booked his holiday to straddle 29th March, hoping that Brexit might cause mayhem at the airports and as a sad consequence he might just have to stay in Goa a trifle longer.  This year he was visibly disappointed when both Ciara and Dennis arrived too early to leave him grounded in the foreign sun however I won’t be at all surprised to receive an apologetic email saying that unfortunately he’s been quarantined for 14 days and it would be for the best if he stayed put.  On a continent that thus far has had just two cases of the virus…. hmmmm!

Still, at least the pandemic news has seen Trump and Johnson booted off the headline acts, although Donny did manage to state that the US is “rapidly developing a vaccine. The vaccine is coming along well.”  Which is probably true but wouldn’t be available for a year following clinical trials – which is perhaps why he is allowing Mike Pence to lead the government response – it’s an election year, he needs to be associated with more immediate successes!

So, with the media whipped threat of a global pandemic, coupled with properly awful weather conditions in large parts of the UK, I’m wondering where does the lightness of mood come from this week?  Never been a fan of felines, so cat videos hold no joy; as mentioned, my senior colleague, who is usually good for a laugh, has left the building; in fact if it wasn’t for the idiocy on twitter regarding Yorkshire Tea and its political associations and the Rees-Mogg follow up with Walkers and Pringles, I think my week would have been one long grey and dreary affair.

Would you rather fight one horse sized duck or 100 duck sized horses?  This dilemma has been doing the rounds since 2003 at least and has been discussed in the pub, on long journeys and even in the later rounds of job interviews.  Well, not for the first time, China is planning its own version of duck fighting.  Widely reported yesterday (and also in July 2000 so this could be a spoof) China is training 100,000 elite ducks, not to engage in equine warfare but in fact to eat the billions of locusts approaching their eastern border.  A duck apparently can eat 200 locusts a day, so this ‘eleat ‘unit would see off 20 million a day, by all accounts. However, judging by estimated number of locusts in the air it would take just 27 years for the swarm to be extinguished.  Now, if we had horse sized ducks….

Sadly, we have just read that Zhang Long, a professor from China Agricultural University, has rejected the Ningbo Evening News report that China was going to dispatch ducks to Pakistan – no comment on the hybrid version though!!

And then we read that France has become the fourth largest export market for Prosecco, now who’d have thunk that?  We had been led to believe that the French were pretty well served on the fizz front – many of the regions produce a Cremant of some sort or another and there is an area just north of Burgundy that certainly has been building quite a reputation of late for its sparkling wines made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir no less – worth looking out for I’m told.  Anyway, Prosecco seems to be sliding in very much at the lower end, as it did in the UK, thus cannibalising a market eager to drink fizz but without a fizz budget.  Ideal.  But you know who it will actually hit the hardest?  Those champagne producers who release their insipid, tart and flavourless version of the noble wine onto the market at a £10 price point – if it kills this market it can only be good for all of us!  Forza Glera!!

We won’t be tasting Prosecco this weekend, we’ll leave that for the French but we will, in a nod towards our wayward traveller, taste a couple of South African wines.

The newly listed white is the Barton Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2017 – £12.79 from Walker Bay, this is all about green pepper, gooseberries, and grapefruit, underlined with a crisp minerality and a medium- bodied citrus finish.  We like all the wines from Barton and it seems you do too, so let’s welcome this one with open arms.

Tom Doran, he of Doran Vineyards, has just had an operation on his knee and so is out of action for a few weeks, so we thought we might give his sales a boost again this week, whilst he’s laid up.  Another reasonably new listing is Doran Vineyards Pinotage 2018 – £13.99 from the Western Cape, this has excellent raspberry and blackberry fruits at its heart and is dangerously drinkable.  Not my best tasting note I concede but I believe it gets the point across.  Get well soon Tom; we’re likely to need more stock!

One important piece of admin before I go:

Next Friday, 6th March, is our annual close-early-and-go-and-run-the-bar-at-the-KCS-quiz-night.  So, we must apologise because we will be closing at 5pm that day.

So, that’s it for this week, apologies for the tardiness but I was interrupted for a bit by a shoplifter who needed thwarting.


Unskilled, Wooden Spoons & Bono

Friday, February 21st, 2020

Fellow Wine Lovers,

We really didn’t know where to start this week. Should we start with the new immigration rules that literally rule out (sorry) enough people to pick our home-grown vegetables? Given that imported from Spain veg will take that much longer to get in, what will we all eat?  Then we have leaving the entire hospitality industry with the impression that the government neither finds them skilled or of much consequence. Would you call a Master Sommelier, who gets about 10 years of training, takes 4 sets of exams (with only 269 people qualifying worldwide in the last 50 years) an unskilled job?

We found ourselves wishing for a government that actually had an idea of how the economy worked before we realised those new specs were a bite rose-tinted! Suffice to say, we’re expecting some slippage on this in the near future.

In other news, we see that some parts of the country are receiving a month of rain in a day, for the second time in a week. Anecdotally, Alex reports that Sports Direct were getting low on wellies but had plenty of swimming trunks left should your garden be getting a bit on the dampside!

We also saw reports that Japan is sprucing up hundreds of public toilets ahead of the Olympics arriving in Tokyo. Wayne reckons if there is any country in the world that knows about a clean public toilet it is Japan, so it seems a bit like gilding the lily!

Rugby is back this weekend with the Six Nations finding its way back onto our screens. Saturday’s early game finds the Scots travelling to Italy to collect a wooden spoon, whilst France will be bringing their canoes to Wales for an adventure.

Sunday will see England hosting the Irish at Twickenham. It seems Bono has been in to give the Irish a pep talk, explaining, no doubt that ‘The Fly’ is to score ‘40’ if they are to be ‘Magnificent’ in the ‘City of Blinding Lights’. Personally, I’m hoping they’ll be ‘Running to Stand Still’.

In wine news, I have much less esoterica to tantalise you with this week. The Swedish alcohol monopoly Systembolaget are suing Vivino for breaking strict booze laws in Sweden by offering reviewed wines for sale through the app. Like all the modern upstarts, Vivino insists it’s done nothing wrong.  My money is on Systembolaget, clue is in the word monopoly!

The new system of classification for Cru Bourgeois came into effect in Bordeaux yesterday. It has taken the best part of ten years to get here, and from 2018 vintage there are now three classifications that will be reviewed every five years. The 2020 classification contains 249 Bordeaux Chateaux, 179  Cru Bourgeois, 56 Cru Bourgeois Supérieur and 14 Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel. We have a list, if you’d like one, let us know.

Tasting This Weekend

We shall open the account with a touch of white represented by the Doran Family Chenin Blanc 2015 (£13.99) it’s a lovely barrel fermented Chenin with a good deal of elegance to its creamy poached pear fruit.

Pulling up its red socks you’ll find Le Seigneur du Raveil Vacqueyras 2016 (£18.49) from a Rhône village producing some lovely richly textured reds. This has really lovely brambled fruit, a touch of spice, some tannin to keep it honest and is just the tick for the weekend we feel.

That’ll do from us this week.


esoterica and Valentine

Friday, February 14th, 2020

Fellow Wine Lovers,

First things first, no beating about the bush.  Today is Valentine’s Day.  You do all probably know that by now, even if perhaps you were unaware of it last night when you went to bed.  That sickening feeling you felt this morning at 6.45 when you shambled blearily downstairs and were confronted by a whacking great bright pink card, a box of chocolates, 2 dozen red roses and a beaming, expectant partner will never, ever really go away.

‘Sorry, darling, I thought we’d celebrate this evening?   You know, bit rushed in the morning and all that, I’ve got a nice bottle of champagne all ready to go but it just seems a bit early right now….’

And, whilst your thinking that you’re doing an amazing job dodging a relationship bullet, your eyes are giving you away, filled with blind panic and shame at the codswallop you are spouting, safe in the knowledge that you are busted big time, once again.  Time to up your game, you say to yourself, as you surreptitiously google what time the card shop opens…

Forget the card shop though, that moment has gone.  There is still Champagne though because yes, you were right, 6.45 is too early to enjoy the bubblier side of life unless you’re in the Lounge at Gatwick.  And we have them chilled, sparkling wines and champagnes, ready to go, to save your bacon.  Here are some pink options:

Domaine Landreau Cremant De Loire Morin Rose NV – £15.99 – for Champagne fans on a sparkling wine budget

Hawkins Bros Rose Reserve NV – £29.00 – the best thing to come out of Guildford since the A3, a traditional blend but with a little extra fruit than some of the more austere English examples          

Champagne Lallier Grand Cru Rose Brut NV – £37.99 – delicious, Grand Cru grapes, comes in a gift box….                                                 

Delavenne Pere et Fils Grand Cru Brut Rose NV – £45.00 – from Bouzy, which is officially the best name for a wine town, ever

Of course, we have plenty of other fizz available to tantalise your taste buds, all you need to do is remember to come straight home rather than go for a few drinks after work with your colleagues!


Not a whole bucket-load this week – no trips to exotic Northern locations, no loyalty based call ups to the reshuffled Cabinet, no cases of Coronavirus to report.  Sport and weather dominated last weekend, Alex actually won a rugby bet for the first time in a long time whilst this weekend looks a bit bereft of sport and potentially customers too, as half term is upon us.

Nope, just checked, not much else in the news that warrants further discussion, sadly.


Whilst we did stray up North to drink gin last week, this week we stayed closer to home thank god – Oxo Tower and Great Portland Street to be precise – and particularly tested ourselves against wines from North Macedonia, Armenia, Georgia, Lebanon and Greece, these last two feeling quite mainstream in this company.

Anyway, bottom line is, we’ve bought some esoterica.  I think it’s been mentioned before but whilst we like a glass of Kiwi Savvy B or a splash of Prosecco on a sunny day these wines are not necessarily what make us leap out of bed and run to work each day.  No, it’s the stuff around the edges, the wines that actually don’t perhaps have a historic reputation, a listing in a Michelin starred restaurant or a fancy-pants globetrotting winemaker – these are the wines that get us out of our pyjamas.

And we’ve listed some but sadly not all.  In our excitement we ordered a couple of wines from Armenia and one from Georgia to discover that their not in the UK until May – boo.

However we have got, arriving today, the following:


Oumsiyat Merlot 2018 – £15.99 – a supercharged damson/plum fruit nose that follow onto the palate – classic with a bit of oomph!

Republic of North Macedonia

Tikveš Kratoshija 2018 – £9.99 – strawberries and cream and a hint of bacon on the finish trust us, it works!

Tikveš Smederevka 2018 – £9.99 – crisp fruit here which is softened by 15% Riesling in the blend, a rival to Sauvignon Blanc?


Vachnadziani Winery Krakhuna 2018 – £13.49 – really nicely balanced white, somewhere between a Furmint and a north eastern Spanish white – very versatile

Vachnadziani Winery Saperavi NV – £11.49 – easy drinking red, with lots of light, bright fruit and a decent length finish – definitely might find yourself onto the second glass quite quickly!

We also found some less esoteric stuff.

From Italy the San Costantino Cannonau di Sardegna DOC 2018 – £17.49 – a style we have been trying to find for ages – Grenache done the Italian way.

From Spain, a replacement for the now lost Vivir Sin Dormir – Finca Bacara ‘Time Waits For No One’ White Skulls 2018 – £13.49 – a delicious Monastrell from Jumilla – delicious.

From Portugal, another corker for silly money.  Wayne thought it was going to be about £20 when he tasted it – when I told him how much it actually is he almost chocked on his scotch egg!  Quinta da Garrida Reserva 2015 – £11.99 – Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz doing what they do best in the Dão sunshine…

Weekend Wines

I think we’ll open the Quinta da Garrida as we are so excited about it and then it might as well be joined by a fellow countryman in the white corner – Ai Galera Mistico 2018 – £8.99 – a delicious and fresh blend of Fernão Pires and Verdelho that has aperitif written all over it!

So, don’t stay late at work, get yourself home and don’t forget the Friday fizz en route!


We slowly sliced a lemon and polished some glasses….

Friday, February 7th, 2020

Fellow Wine Lovers,

Thank God it’s Friday, we’ve worked really hard this week!  Ok, it may not actually look like that to you, having been closed Monday and Tuesday but trust me; we were putting our livers on the line for the greater good!

So, as mentioned, we were closed Monday and Tuesday to travel to the very north of the country to visit the fine folk on the moors at Hepple.  We have sold the high fidelity gin from Hepple pretty much since they started to share it with the world, I think Fortnum’s were the only people to pip us to the post and frankly we don’t mind coming second to Piccadilly’s finest…

Anyway, having sold their Gin for such a long time (October 2015 to be precise) we finally managed to save up enough groats for the return trip to Alnmouth in order to go visit these distilling deities and Monday was the day.  Emerging into the blistering sunshine we were met at the station by Walter, the major-domo of the Moorland Spirit company, who whisked us the 45 minutes inland to the Northumberland National Park and the home of Hepple, assuring us on the way that we should not get used to having to wear sunglasses and in fact Wayne was sensible to have bought waterproof trousers.

This was sound advice from a local we soon discovered.

Walking on the moors having had a restorative martini, we saw sunshine, we saw horizontal rain, we saw heather, then some more heather and just round the corner from that, some heather.  We also saw, more importantly some of the Hepple botanicals in their element. 

Douglas Fir, Bog Myrtle and Juniper all grow on the moor here and as a result are at the front of the Hepple story, as is blackcurrant but these bushes were having a sleep.  To be honest, raw Bog Myrtle of the branch is an acquired taste, Douglas Fir has a strong citrus element that surprises us still and the Juniper cones are just delicious and spicy.  The fact that Hepple has its own Juniper makes it unique amongst British Gin producers and allows them to add a different nuance to the blend.  The bushes are old, old, old and are referred to as ‘the ladies’ since they are all named after Aunts in Walter’s family tree – names like Phyllida, Miriam and Tamsin are less often heard nowadays but are alive and kicking in the hills of the Coquet Valley!

The darkness was falling, as was the rain so we repaired inside for some refreshment and sleep – Gin was perhaps sampled but purely in a professional manner – what goes on tour etc etc…

Tuesday morning brought a tour of the distillery and a chance to meet Chris Garden, who has quickly become a big name in the world of craft Gin.  He was the distiller at Sipsmith’s until 2014 when he elected to move up to Newcastle where his wife’s family live.  As a result of his career in Hammersmith, and now the 5 years at Hepple, it is likely that nobody has greater experience in small-batch distilling than Chris in the UK and as a consequence his role is vital to the operation.

And boy does he know what he’s talking about.  His enthusiasm is infectious, his chemistry lesson was the clearest I’ve ever experienced and might have helped my GCSE’s and his clear joy in the juniper just makes you want to give up drinking anything else – so we slowly sliced a lemon and polished some glasses….

I won’t bore you much longer apart from to say the Hepple story is not just one story but a whole panoply of riches that many other Gin’s would give their right tentacle for, too many stories almost but I’ll list them here in no particular order:

  • They have their own juniper
  • They have Chris Garden
  • They have Walter and his lovely wife, Lucy, to tend the Juniper and in fact to plant out more as part of their Juniper Project to try to regenerate growth on the moor
  • Wayne and Alex have also planted juniper now but as neither of us are Walter’s Aunt we fear for our long term future
  • The other partners in this venture are famous foraging chef Valentine Warner and legendary barkeep Nick Strangeway who both bring decades of flavour experience to the table for the renowned distilling and flavour developer Cairbry Hill to turn into liquid magic – some sort of dream team!
  • They don’t just make a London Dry, London Dry is their base and they then go beyond that
  • ‘Beyond that’ involves using vacuum distillation for freshness and then a supercritical extraction that draws out flavours from the juniper that cannot be found using other means.

There are, I’m sure, things I’ve missed out but suffice to say a Gin that we already knew we loved has just reminded us why we love it so much!

Hepple Gin £38

‘it might just be the best Martini Gin I’ve ever tasted’ – Victoria Moore, Daily Telegraph;

‘by revealing the hidden complexities of the ancient, overlooked and natural, it encapsulates the pulse of the place’  – Dave Broom

Back at the ranch

Our sojourn in the North had to come to an end, not because Wayne had finished all the Gin as reported elsewhere, that’s an unfair rumour and Alex feels that all his efforts have gone unnoticed but because we had a shop to run.  So, back at the ranch we now are and after a few days of glorious escapism in England’s least populous county, London feels a bit busy and bright but it’s nice to be back and see what has been going on.

Trump got off, as expected, and is taking it all in his stride like the grown-up that he is.  Whilst on the subject of Darwinism, a bodybuilder claiming a fear of heights and an inability to lift weights due to an accident, was caught out when he posted multiple photos of him weightlifting and riding a 33 metre waterslide that amazingly the insurance company saw on his social media accounts – numpty!  Speaking of numptiness, Alex has decided that England will win on Saturday and has even bet one customer a fiver to this effect – did he not watch the game last week?  Still, at least all his predictions can still pan out, especially when Italy whip France on Sunday – although I’m not sure if he’s taking bets on this!

Got your backs

If it’s Friday 7th February today that means that next week is the 14th – just saying…

So, you might be needing some pink fizz to celebrate and with this in mind can we recommend one of the following:

Domaine du Landreau Cremant de Loire Rosé – £15.99

Hailing from Anjou, Domaine du Landreau has passed through four generations of vine growers.  This is made from Cabernet Franc and Grolleau, hand harvested fermented in the traditional method and then aged for 3 years on the lees.  A cracking sparkler with raspberry fruit character that is an absolute joy.

Hawkins Bros. Rosé Reserve – £29.00

These English wine producers are based just south of Guildford, growing and making wine on the south-facing chalk of the Hogs Back.  Made in the Traditional Method from 95% Pinot Noir, 5% Pinot Meunier, this is a supremely elegant rosé with a subtle flavour of summer berries, a delicate pink hue, notes of strawberry, and fresh brioche from 30 months pre-release ageing.

Champagne Delavenne Père et Fils Grand Cru Brut Rosé – £45.00

Based in the aptly named village of Bouzy where the Pinot Noir grape is the King.  Made entirely from Grand Cru grapes, this is a lovely elegant style with strawberries and red berries on the nose and perhaps a hint of rose petal.  The palate is juicy and creamy with a persistent mousse from start to finish.  This oozes class, much like that special one in your life!

Knocking it back and kicking back

As suggested above, it’s Friday and thus the end of the week – time for some much needed r’n’r.  To aid this we’ll have some wine open this evening and tomorrow to lubricate your journey home which will be a pair of Kiwi’s I believe:

Southern Dawn Sauvignon Blanc 2019 – £11.99 – an excellent Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc with all the trademark passionfruit, citrus, nettles, cut grass and hints of capsicum that you would hope for.  These aromas light the path to a soft, well rounded palate with a luscious mouth feel and pronounced fruit characters.

Southern Dawn Pinot Noir 2013 – £14.49 – this is a wine we have had on the shelf pretty much since we opened.   I could give you all the guff about the soil in the vineyards, the angle of the slope the vines are planted on and the winemaker’s collection of 19th century corkscrews, but none of that is really relevant.  We sell this wine because we think it tastes brilliant: light with red cherry fruit character, a nice bit of age and a lovely fresh finish.

Of course we will also have the Hepple open, if there’s any left after our midday martinis, so do swing by and say hello!