Tuesday, 13 November 2012

The Secret to Tasting...

One of the most common questions I face when teaching wine appreciation is: "How can I get better at wine tasting?". The answer is so simple that people often think I'm joking, but my honest response is to taste as many other things as you possibly can.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Wine Tourism on a Budget

Can there be any better way to understand a wine than to visit the vineyard? See the vines, feel the sun on your face and the soil beneath your feet? Of course not - and it needn't cost a fortune.

Wine Consumption World Map

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Ginterview, part 2

Hot on the heels of part one of The Cambridge Distillery's interview on Cambridge105, part two is now available for your listening pleasure.

The Tailoring Room at The Cambridge Distillery

The Cambridge Distillery is the world's first Gin Tailor. Created by my wife and I, it is dedicated to making unique gin blends so that every individual can enjoy their own bespoke recipe. In this final part of the interview, the process of gin tailoring is discussed in detail. Listen to the interview by clicking the 'play' button below.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Cow Vodka. Really.

Many of those who know me will be very surprised to see me writing a blog about vodka. For those who don't know me, allow me to briefly surmise: vodka is excellent. For cleaning things. Before the Russian Mafia arrive at my door I would like to qualify that I restrict this rather disparaging opinion to those Western vodka brands whose only aims are the pursuit of flavour neutrality and the PR goal of being photographed along side a vacuous minor celebrity, both of which strike me as entirely pointless endeavours.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Cambridge Distillery Hits the Airwaves!

Exciting news! I've been interviewed for Radio. Even more exciting, you can listen to the interview right here on my blog. You have to love living in the future.

The Cambridge Distillery is the project that my wife and I have been working on bringing to life for the past couple of years. Now that it's up and running we have been very pleased to show a number of journalists and bloggers around our premesis. Just last week we were visited by Matt Bentman from Cambridge105 - you can hear what happened in part one of the interview by using the player embedded below.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

2012 - A year of extremes

For English wine makers 2012 has been an extraordinary year. They've shared in the joys of the Jubilympics (some more directly than others), the cringeworthy exploits of the Apprentice candidates (Grandeur, anyone?), but they have also had to contend with weather conditions which have been far from ideal.

Grapes ripening unevenly. Photo by Andrew Crowley

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

IWSC Blogger of the Year Shortlist

This year the IWSC (who, you may remember, I did some judging for last year) have launched a new competition: Blogger of the Year.

As a keen blogger (as you no doubt have noticed) I have found this terribly exciting. The award is intended to recognise "an individual who has utilised a blog in promoting and increasing public awareness and interest in wines and/or spirits, in the last 12 months".

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Climate Change


Autumn is on the way, folks. How do I know? It's not the dark mornings, nor the falling leaves. It's not even the start of a new season of Downton Abbey. No, the tell tale sign was on our dinner table this weekend: the first bottle of Ch√Ęteauneuf-du-Pape of the year.
It's obvious that the effect of climate on wine production is a subject people struggle, at least initially, to comprehend (I'm not talking about the MWs of the world here). This suddenly struck me as odd, given that our favourite pasttime in Britain is talking about the weather.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Micro-Distillery, Massive Impact

Micro Vacuum Distillery in Cambridge

My last blog looked at Real Ales and the ever-increasing number of micro-breweries bubbling up across the country. This month we’re moving on to the hard stuff as we look at a relatively recent phenomenon: the micro-distillery.
It would be accurate, if not insightful, to state that home brewers have paved the way for home distillers. Distillers, however, have a problem: the law. Owning and operating a still of any size or shape is illegal, unless properly licensed. Where the home brewer is permitted an unlimited volume for personal consumption, the default yield for the distiller is zero (NB we take this for granted in the UK, but in many countries home distillers are left to their own devices).

Friday, 7 September 2012

Real Ale Resurgance

Real Ale is enjoying an undeniable resurgence. As we have seen across many categories, including food, wine and spirits, people are now looking towards smaller and, in many cases, local producers for quality products.

Man with beard enjoying ale

Friday, 24 August 2012

Champagne vs the world

Here's an article I wrote recently looking into the dominance of Champagne in the sparkling wine industry:

Champagne has long been positioned as the drink of celebration, and 2012 has given us many excuses to celebrate, but there are an enormous number of other sparkling wines available to us here in the U.K. What is it that makes Champagne so different, and can its position at the top ever really be challenged?
In order to understand the dominance of Champagne, we need to understand the processes involved in its production and how it differs from other sparkling wines such as Prosecco, Cava, and English Sparkling Wine.

Champagne: like Russian dolls, but French. And alcoholic.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

New Zealand Wine Tour - Huia

Back in November I had the pleasure of visiting an old colleague of mine, James MacKenzie, who has made his new home in Marlborough, New Zealand. Nestled in the small town of Blenhiem, the area is awash with vineyards which have become household names back home.

Marlborough vineyards from the sky

For me, the experience was somewhat like wondering up and down Hollywood Boulevard looking at the stars on the pavement (with the obvious difference that I actually recognised the names).

Friday, 20 July 2012

Perry or Pear Cider...?

Pear Cider Article Over the past few years the popularity of pear cider has rocketed, out-performing almost every other alcoholic drink sector on the market. But pear cider isn’t a new invention – far from it – there are records of pear cider production in England going back to 1580. So why has pear cider suddenly come into fashion?

A pair of pears (proving the importance of accurate spelling)

Friday, 6 July 2012

Raspberry Daiquiri

The Daiquiri. One of the most enduring cocktails ever created. Perhaps the secret to its longevity lies in its versitility? A cocktail which can be served straight up, on cubed or crushed ice, or frozen, with almost any fruit you care to mention...
On reflection, maybe it has become such an enduring cocktail simply because there are so many preparations which fit under the umbrella name of 'daiquiri'.
Either way, when properly thought out, the daiquiri can be a delightful drink.
Thinking about the flavours which are already present in your rum will help you to pick out the most suitable fruits to combine with your base (lime, of course, being the traditional choice). These days, you'll find pretty much any fruit in a daiquiri, or even more likely, any type of puree. Personally, I prefer to use real fruit, but each to their own.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Pimm's O'Clock?

Here's an article I wrote last month, which seems particularly apt given the Jubille weekend's arrival. It was commisioned by the University Caterer.

Spring is turning to summer, and with the mercury rising rapidly up the thermometer, our thoughts turn to the quintessential English drinks. Pimm’s Number One cup is almost ubiquitous during the warmer months here in England: Henley Regatta and Wimbledon simply wouldn’t be the same without it, it has become synonymous with outdoor events and even appears to have become, dare I say it, a rather patriotic beverage.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Eco-Friendly Wines

A while ago I wrote an article on Vegetarian Wines, which was very well received by vegetarians and carnivores alike. This seems to me to be indicative of a growing trend: if we can make things without causing harm, be it to other people, animals, or the planet, then we should aspire to do so.

Where wines are concerned, there are two main ways in which the ecological impact can be restricted: practices in the vineyard, and the combined effects of packaging and shipping. Viticulture (the posh word for grape growing) is of course where all wine making starts.

Will Lowe Blogtails Huia Vineyard New Zealand

Thursday, 17 May 2012

WSET Diploma: Day Nine

The ninth day of the WSET Level 4 course represents the final full day of lectures of the first year. It was a day of two halves. The first focused on the wines of Germany, the second on examination technique for the assessments facing us over the coming months.
The morning session followed the familiar format: an overview of the facts and figures, the factors which distinguish the areas, then a tasting of the relevant wines. Six glasses will suffice for this day, and you don't need any other equipment.
We started out with four remarkably similar looking (and tasting) wines.

German wines, in glorious multicolour!

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

WSET Diploma: Days Seven & Eight

After the emotionally draining exam of Day Six, I'm prepared to admit that I've fallen behind schedule with this series of WSET Level Four posts. Fortunately, these two sessions are simple enough to deal with in one one post as they follow essentially the same format. And a very enjoyable format that is, too.
Both days were delivered by external lecturers, Sally Easton MW and Richard Bampfield MW, dealing with Bordeaux / South West France / Loire, and Burgundy / Alsace respectively. Both were exceptionally brilliant wine communicators.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

WSET Diploma: Day Six

Hot on the heels of Day Five, the sixth day of the WSET Diploma was not one that any of the students had been too excited about, since it began with the Unit 2 examination.
It's a long time since I've sat an exam, and it was a strange but familiar sensation to sit in the room prior to the exam as people frantically read through their notes one last time. The exam focusses on viticulture and vinification, subjects which were covered extensively in Day Two and Three.
Having survived the exam (actually I did quite well, thanks for asking), I would like to offer the following revision advice:

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

WSET Diploma: Day Five

After the uncharacteristically dry Day Four, the glasses were out again for Day Five.
Fortified wines was the topic of the day: Sherry, Port, Vin doux Naturels and Maderia. These wines have never been my strong point: I don't drink them often, see them often, or even talk about them very often.
All of this combined to make the Day Five a challenging day.
The subject of fortified wines is enormous, so tackling the subject in a single day was always going to be difficult. Of course, the objective isn't to teach the entire subject in eight straight hours - students have to take the initiative and direct their own study around the lectures as well.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

WSET Diploma: Day Four

Following the previous three tasting-heavy days at the WSET, it was a considerable shift to be told to arrive for day four with no glasses whatsoever. Day Four focuses on the Global Drinks market and, as such, is more to do with the interpretation of data than the liquid itself.

The day had enormous potential to be stiflingly dull but, thankfully, was presented by a Mr Philip Goodband MW who is a truly fascinating chap. Philip is gifted in bringing stats to life, and encouraged the class to look beyond the experiences of our own time in the industry. I, along with many others, am guilty of a very Westernized view of the world of wines and spirits (and spent longer than you would believe debating the 'z' in that word). Whilst it is almost impossible to be unaware of the influence of the Chinese market on European winemakers at the moment, the scales involved are well beyond anything I had imagined.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Breaking News: The Cambridge Distillery

Since I started this blog I've had the pleasure of writing up a number of products and events before they are released to the general public. Today, I am very excited to be able to share with you a new development in the spirits world: a brand new distillery, in Cambridge, dedicated to producing tailored gin.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

WSET Diploma: Day Three

Day three of the diploma focused almost entirely on wine making techniques (or, for those in the know, vinification).
I don't know if it's because I personally tend to be more of a chemist than a geologist / biologist, or simply because thanks to Day Two I was ready for a devilish level of detail, but I found this lecture surprisingly comfortable. Here's an example slide from the session (which I hope I don't get in trouble for sharing). I think it's worth preparing yourself for this kind of content which, lets face it, is straight-forward chemistry.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Bar Theatrics

Aware that it has been some time since I last updated my blog, here is a recent article I wrote for The University Caterer magazine about bar theatrics. I would welcome your feedback on this controversial subject...

The world of bar theatrics has grown apace in the past 20 years. From bottle flinging to fire shows, to the more subtle world of professional mixology, we take a look at how these trends are translating to the high-street and, as trends develop, our University bars.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

WSET Diploma - Day Two

Day two of the Diploma arrived after a three week break. During those three weeks we weren't particularly guided regarding what to study next, so it's fair to say I didn't really make the most of the time. A bit of reading around grape-growing and pruning was time well spent though.
Again, in the absence of advice regarding what to bring, I opted for just my tasting glasses (purchased from the WSET on day one) and the Unit Two handbook, which transpired to be the correct decision (note, we used eight glasses, not just six, during this session).
The first half of the day was dedicated to viticulture, which was every bit as chemical / biological / geological as it sounds. From root stocks to parasites, cloning to site selection, this was one of the most information-rich lectures of my recent life. Having just come out of two years of studying Forensic Psychology at Masters level, this is really saying something! I arrived at lunch time with 15 A4 pages of notes, and the lecture itself really skimmed just the essentials from the accompanying text, which is densely packed with detail.
This is not to say there wasn't time for tasting - we assessed eight wines during the session - simply that this is a lecture to bring your 'A game' to if you intend to maximise your learning potential. I would also seriously recommend reading the relevant chapter from the Unit 2 handbook in the week before you go: any head start you can give yourself will really pay off when it comes to digesting the information.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Cognac: Breaking News!

There are exciting things afoot in Cognac, and your intrepid reporter has got the scoop!

Last week, a group of four journalist / blogger folk (including GinMonkey and Chocoralie) made the journey over to France to take a closer look.

The good folk at Remy Martin had some news to share with us, but keeping their cards close to their chest, decided to keep the mystery to themselves until the big reveal. I'm not nearly that good with secrets, so I'm just going to come out with it: changes are being made to their VSOP.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

History is written by the victors (and Wikipedia)

I've been doing a lot of research into the history of Gin lately, and found an enormous amount of inconsistencies. Common consensus seems to be that, loosely speaking, Gin was first created by Franciscus Sylvius in 1650 (remember this date). This was thought to have been for purely medicial reasons, with Juniper being noted as an effective diuretic, used to treat liver cirrhosis and kidney failure (although with apparently little attention paid to the counter-productive effects of the alcohol it was steeped in).

Franciscus Sylvius

Thursday, 26 January 2012

WSET Diploma: Day One

Having just completed two years of studying (PGDip Forensic Psychology, the scope of which is really beyond this blog), I have recently - just yesterday, in fact - embarked upon my latest academic endeavour: the WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust) Diploma in Wines and Spirits.

This blog entry will serve two purposes: one, a description of what is required for students on each day and; two, my reflection on each day as it passes.

Firstly, what do you need to take with you? I'm writing this because the WSET sent me an almighty (and fear-inspiring) study pack, which weighs an impressive 10.8lb (that's 4.6kg). Regular readers will be in no way surprised that I weighed it as soon as it arrived.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Training @ Just Add... Bibendum

As Bibendum's Annual Tasting creeps ever closer (January 25th, check your diary), the training team are busying themselves with a showcase for the kind of activities we get up to for the other 365 days of the year (2012 is a leap year, don’t ya know).

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Aramis Martini

Here's an exciting new discovery for you: Citadelle Reserve Gin.
French Law dictates that Cognac may only be distilled between the beginning of November and the end of March. This leads to some perfectly good distilleries, together with their distilling teams, being essentially dormant for 6 months of the year.