A gem above the Romney Marshes

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Gusbourne-Estate
Stephanie Barlow, one of the expert Wine Advisors from our Warehouse Shop, reports back on her recent visit to the Gusbourne Estate, the Kent producer that’s fast becoming a benchmark for domestic winemaking talent

The beautiful Indian summer feels a distant memory now we are engulfed by chilly autumn mornings. Some of the Berry Bros. & Rudd team and I were lucky, however, to catch possibly one of last fine days of the year on our trip last week to Andrew Weeber’s Gusbourne Estate in Kent. There we were welcomed by CEO Ben Walgate and Vineyard Manager Jon Pollard, who took us for a trip around the vineyard, taking in all the wonderful sights from the famous Romney Marshes to the intriguing homemade linseed straw wind-breaks protecting their young vines. What more glamorous start to the morning than sitting on a hay bale in the back of a pickup truck, the fresh morning breeze blowing hay in your face and splatting mud up your sleeves? It was nonetheless great fun and highly informative.

Winemaker Charlie Holland showed us the imaginative styles and techniques Gusbourne are experimenting with on a tour of the winery. Visiting a week after their eight-day harvest was a unique opportunity to sample straight from the vat and barrel, both pre- and during fermentation; it was a thought-provoking experience which perfectly demonstrated the excellent acidity that Champagne varieties exhibit when grown on domestic soils. From early budburst and flowering, to a slightly damp August rescued by good sun in September, the team are quietly confident that 2014 is shaping up to be a strong vintage for English wine.

Over lunch Charlie and Ben guided us through some inspired pairings, treating us to some expertly-prepared local cuisine matched with both Gusbourne’s excellent sparkling wines and some truly intriguing still ones which captured my attention.  A mixture of Burgundy and Champagne clones allows the team to produce sufficiently ripe grapes with meticulous selection for the different styles adding complexity to the wines. The 2010 Blanc de Blancs exhibited superb breadth of flavour and beautiful balance with a fine candied apple finish.

The 2013 Guinevere, a barrel-fermented Chardonnay, also caught my eye with its fresh citrus notes combined with creamy vanilla and balanced with crisp acidity – a worthy partner for the rich mushroom soup we started with. We were then treated to a local delicacy, Romney salt marsh lamb, with Dauphinoise potatoes. What finer pairing could there be than wine made from a vineyard overlooking the marshes themselves? The distinctive sweet flavour of the lamb was beautifully enhanced by the soft juicy red cherry and redcurrant characters of the 2012 and 2013 Pinot Noirs – simply divine.

With most of Britain’s salt marsh lamb exported to France to be served at their top Michelin-starred restaurants, we are most definitely missing a treat right on our doorstep. You don’t need to go to France to treat yourselves however when we have such outstanding quality produce of our own here in the United Kingdom, sumptuous fare with which you can indulge in these exquisite English sparkling wines, characterful Chardonnays and elegant Pinot Noirs.

Gusbourne’s wines are a credit to the hardworking team behind them, and it was a pleasure to spend such an interesting day in their company. I can’t wait to see how the 2014 wines turn out, and look forward to more terrific years to come from this award-winning producer.

Category: English Wine

Three of the best ways to enjoy our No.3 London Dry Gin

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Photograph: Lucie England-Duce

Photograph: Lucie England-Duce

Amanda Baxter, our Product Training Manager, has the pleasure of organising our annual, nationwide cocktail challenge. Here she recounts the circumstances of this year’s competition – focusing on our No.3 London Dry Gin – before disclosing the name of its thoroughly deserving winner

Two months ago we laid down the gauntlet to the UK’s bartenders, asking them to deliver us their finest cocktail recipe; the only guidelines were it must include our No.3 Gin and feature an ‘English Garden twist’ – following our No.3 G&T bar’s hugely successful summer residency at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew. We received over 100 entries, which then had to be narrowed down to the best three bartenders across our three chosen ‘northern’ and ‘southern’ cities.

Then came the arduous task of dispatching our judging teams the length and breadth of the country to assess the shortlisted cocktails whilst quizzing the bartenders on the inspiration behind their show-stopping thirst-quenchers. Safely returned from their travels, our adjudicators then had to decide which were worthy of a place in the final to compete for a unique ‘Berry Bros & Rudd experience’.

Thus, on Monday 29th September, a bartender from each chosen city gathered in the stunning surroundings of Roundhay Park, Leeds – a quintessential English Garden encompassing 700 acres – to battle it out for the title of 2014 champion.

Representing the north were Will Farquhar of Orchid Bar, Aberdeen; Tim Ward of Two Fifths in Newcastle, and Charlene Holt of Manchester’s Apotheca. From the south we had Kate Ling of The Bureau in Birmingham; Isaac Windsor of Pata Negra, Bristol; and Wayne Chapman from London’s City Social. We strongly suggest you visit all of the above, or at least begin with whichever establishment is the closest to you.

Our tripartite judging panel consisted of last year’s victor Matt Fairhurst, Amanda Humphrey from the Mixxit training team and, from Berry Bros. & Rudd Spirits, myself. The judging was not made easy by the fantastic range of homemade ingredients offered up alongside the inspired stories behind each cocktail, but after much deliberation we came to a unanimous decision.

In third place was Will Farquhar from Aberdeen, whose ‘My Fair Maiden’ recipe was inspired by summer evenings around the fire in his aunt’s garden, the air thick with the scent of herbs. The cocktail itself is a combination of:

50ml No.3 Gin
15ml Picon
15ml homemade capillary syrup (a simple, honey-based syrup with ferns)
15ml lemon juice
Dash of Dr Adam Elmegirab’s Dandelion & Burdock bitters
Three basil leaves

Narrowly missing out on the top spot was Tim Ward from Newcastle. His ‘The Mary Lennox’ may be familiar to avid readers of Frances Hodgson Burnett, as it references the orphaned girl and lead character from the literary classic, The Secret Garden. It is made up of:

50ml No.3 Gin
5ml Suze (Gentian apéritif)
5ml gum syrup
7.5ml homemade summer tincture (The Glenrothes infused with summer fruits)
Dash of absinthe

All of which means our winner was Wayne Chapman from our hometown, London, who impressed us all with ‘Mr Tod’s Redemption’, based on the Beatrix Potter stories of Benjamin Bunny. Its largely leporid-friendly constituents are:

50ml No.3 Gin
30ml homemade carrot and ginger purée
10ml lemon juice
10ml Campari
10ml homemade clementine cordial
Pinch of homemade carrot salt

Best served in a picnic basket complete with checked blanket and topped with a ginger wafer.

As to Wayne’s reward, at a time of his choosing he and a friend will enjoy an exclusive lunch for two in the wood-panelled grandeur of our Director’s Dining Room at St James’s, before heading over to the five-star Dukes Hotel for refreshing No.3 Gin martinis. Then it’s on to the Royal Albert Hall for a show of his choice – and further libations at our No.3 Gin Bar there – before returning to Dukes for a complimentary overnight stay.

Category: Spirits

Seals of approval

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Roman Kauls is a sales assistant at our Warehouse Shop, and an ardent fan of finely-constructed German Rieslings. For our latest blog entry he considers a trio of solutions for a perennial enquiry, namely how best to keep wine in the bottle

One question that comes up time and again at our Warehouse Shop is this: “Which method is the best to keep the wine in the bottle?” Contemporary research and development has enabled us to utilise a variety of different closures to achieve this, but do all of them provide the same quality? Let us consider some of the most common ways to preserve wine – and their efficacy:

Cork

The classic cork is comprised of bark tissue and is harvested from quercus suber, more commonly known as cork oak. The cork as we know it has some fantastic attributes that make it the most commonly-used closure, namely that it is impermeable, elastic, and breathable. Due to its cellular structure it forms a perfect seal to the bottle; however, as cork is a natural product it also contains some weaknesses – cork taint and oxidation are the main issues faced by both consumers and producers, and on average one in 20 bottles are affected by it.

Screwcap

A screwcap does literally as the name implies, screwing the cap tight onto the bottle. A layer of soft plastic or rubber is placed where the aluminium cap meets the bottle neck to ensure the closure is tight. In Australia and New Zealand in particular this type of wine preservation has overtaken the classic cork, but what exactly are the advantages? It is, of course, easier to open and re-close, while production costs are lower than those of natural-grown cork. Recent studies have shown that ageing is also possible with the screwcap method. However, the cheaper versions don’t allow the wine to breathe, and are mostly made from non-renewable resources. While you might think that bottles under screwcap would be free of so-called “cork taint”, they can still suffer at the hands of this strain of bacteria (2,4,6-trichloroanisole) although the risk is markedly reduced.

Vino-Seal or Vinolok

Let’s contemplate a rather more unique way of wine preservation: the glass cork. This unusual design is probably the most aesthetic way of closure and, due to a rubber ring between the stopper and bottle neck, it bears similar characteristics to the screw cap. The main disadvantage is a question of cost: not only is the production process dear but most bottling plants can’t accommodate this style of closure, leading to even higher manual labour fees. Its true benefit is a more benevolent one, as the Vino-Seal (or Vinolok – depending on the manufacturer) is 100 percent recyclable.

So, what is the best means of sealing in one’s nectar? The simple but straightforward answer is none of the above. Bear in mind there are many other solutions such as alternative packaging and other closures – including the Zork and synthetic cork. In my mind the Screw-Cork (officially known as Helix) offers the most promising future, especially with the continuing gains in research and development. The Vino-Seal is undoubtedly the sleekest and most unique. Yet there is a palpable sense of ceremony with a traditional cork, from the moment it is pierced by the corkscrew to that unmistakable ‘pop’ when the wine is uncovered. For this alone I’m happy to take a gamble on the organic ups and downs of the humble cork.

Category: Miscellaneous

Rediscovering its sparkle

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Edwin Dublin, Assistant Manager at our London Shop and a champion of Champagne, on why the oft-overlooked Vintage Champagne category is deserving of our renewed interest – and enjoyment

When one thinks of Champagne, ‘luxury’ and ‘glamour’ tend to spring to mind more readily than ‘value’. Yet one of the trade secrets surrounding Champagne is that vintage is able to provide a huge step up in complexity from its non-vintage sibling, but without the sometimes eye-watering prices of the prestige cuvées, thus making them excellent value. Vintage is the middle child in the shadow of her glamorous older sibling – the prestige cuvée.  Moët et Chandon is a case in point: their Brut Impérial NV is famous around the world (indeed, it accounts for approximately 10 percent of all Champagnes bought); the glamorous sibling here is Dom Pérignon, for many the ultimate cuvée of them all. So what of the forgotten middle child?

Vintage is a slightly awkward category because although the prestige cuvées are vintage-dated, their drinkers are often not interested in this particular facet, caring more for the style, name or associations of their preferred cuvée label. This is a logical follow-on from non-vintage which, being a blend of vintages, is all about house style. But it is with vintage that winemakers often feel they can come into their own in showcasing the house style as reflected by a particular year.

Under the direction of chef de cave Benoît Gouez, Moët has over the last 10 to 15 years raised the game of their vintage offering, Grand Vintage. Current offerings here are the 2006 Grand Vintage and the 2004 Grand Vintage Rosé. The 2006 vintage was characterised by a hot spring and early summer followed by a cool and wet August which caused some furrowed brows; but September, as so often is the case, saved the day to produce a healthy crop which provides satisfying early drinking. The 2006 Moët has Chardonnay taking the lead (42 percent) and Pinot Noir (39 percent) just edging Meunier (19 percent). The rich toasty nose with subtle bitter orange is evidence of the generous seven years’ lees ageing and signposts this as a step up from the non-vintage. The palate is similarly generous in both weight and flavour profile with peach, melon, that orange once again and a nuttiness that lingers.

The 2004 had the Champenois holding their breath after the extraordinarily topsy-turvy and torrid 2003, but it was a return to near normality with a large but healthy, good-quality harvest. Initially underrated after the great 2002, it has been re-evaluated upwards and is one of my favourite recent vintages. The Pinot Noir-dominant 2004 Grand Vintage Rosé (45 percent Pinot Noir, of which 22 percent is red wine) has an attractive deep-copper colour; lifted warm brioche on the nose follows through with a richly-textured palate of black-berried fruit that is almost wine-like, a touch of black chocolate with a liquorice twist on the finish.

So the next time you want to upgrade from non-vintage to something a little more refined, give a thought to the vintage offering. Who knows, you may even be able to buy two or more bottles for the price of a single prestige cuvée

Explore Moët et Chandon’s Vintage Champagnes with 20 percent off until 17th November.

Category: Champagne and Sparkling Wines