2017-05-09

Beech Leaf Gin

Yesterday was a beautiful sunny day, so I picked a load of freshly budded beech leaves and put them in a glass jar with a litre of gin dregs.

It must be seven or eight years since I last made noyau, but I was inspired to have another go by @_littlebrowndog, a fellow member of the whisky world who is also responsible for the fascinating #projectPEAT.

The discarded scraps of bud. Very fiddly.
In the past I've not managed to catch the leaves at quite the earliest stage, but this time I was able to select the freshly budded leaves, many of which still had the wispy pink bud covering. This made preparing the leaves rather fiddly, but they were so soft (and importantly, not at all waxy) that the process of extracting flavour is sure to be much faster.

The gin dregs were selected from about forty different gins on the simple basis of whether on not I consider them to be any good. So the bland, the odd, and those with any off notes were rejected. It does mean that there are rather a lot of botanicals competing with the fagus silvestris, but it's so long since I've made noyau that everthing about the process is once again experimental.

I'll update this blog post in a wee while (a few days, a few weeks? Not sure yet) once I reckon the gin is sufficiently green (although I seem to remember it's more of a yellow than green).
       
Freshly picked leaves
Leaves, jar, but no gin.

2017-04-05

My Big Book of Grapes

A few years back I received the wonderful gift of Wine Grapes : A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, including their Origins and Flavours, by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding, and José Vouillamoz.

It came in very handy last night on tasting this Lyrarakis Psarades Dafni 2015. It was by far the most unusual wine I have tasted in the last I don't know how many months. Just look at my tasting note:

Nose: Vermouth, bay leaves, herbs. slightly sherried. A green, nutty note.

Palate: Dry, mid- bodied, mid acidity, mid alcohol. Herbal, green, bay leaves. Very very distinctive, unusual, delicious.

No kidding, this wine tasted remarkably like Noilly Prat. It was delicious.

So anyway, turning to Wine Grapes I learned that Dafni is a variety from the Greek island of Kríti (aka Crete), which had all but disappeared by the end of the 1980s. Fortunately, Lyrarakis, the producers of this lovely wine, continued to cultivate it, and is now back up to around 15 hectares. It seems that it needs to be intensively pruned for low yields in order to give these lovely flavours, which is perhaps why it fell out of favour.

I'm so glad it survived. I don't suppose I'd want to drink it all the time, but for a food-friendly change of style it's just about perfect.

If you don't yet have a copy of Wine Grapes, I cannot recommend it highly enough. It's worth it for the pedigree charts alone. Here's a not very good picture of the entry for Dafni:

2017-02-17

Tasting Note: If Savoury Frangipane Were A Thing

To be honest, I only wrote this tasting note because I wanted to use the title. That aside, I'm enjoying a great glass of wine.

Vajra is an absolutely top notch producer of wines in Piemonte, Italy. This bottle is from an estate that Vajra bought towards the end of the 2000s. It's Luigi Baudana Dragon 2015, a fantastic blend of 50% Chardonnay, 30% Sauvignon Blanc, 15% Riesling and 5% Nascetta (whatever the heck that is).

My tasting note:

Nose:  Complex, nutty, and herbal, with a suggestion of something phenolic (or terpenes?) possibly analogous to the petrol note in Riesling. If savoury frangipane were a thing, this is how it would smell.

Palate: Complex, rounded, and delicious. The acidity is somewhere between lemon juice and grapefruit pith. Green notes are less in evidence than on the nose. There's something of the phat of a brazil nut. A very clean refreshing finish. Nothing of the individual grape varieties, but that is absolutely not a criticism.

Conclusion: This is superb wine, and awfully cheap for what it offers. Also, it has a dragon on the label.

2016-11-11

Needs More Juniper

I'm currently working my way through four dozen gin samples for the World Drinks Awards, a process which was delayed by an absolute stinker of a cold (necessitating a rather busier than anticipated weekend ahead).



Oddly, and despite the name being a bit of a clue as to what the drink should taste like, some of these gins need more juniper.

Or perhaps it's not odd. Perhaps, in the current crowded market of new gins, some poor sods have decided that their USP is going to be Lack Of Juniper. Who knows?

Incidentally, I reckon we have just hit Peak Gin. How do I know this? Well, on the Archers, Toby Fairbrother is trying his hand (and failing) at gin distilling.

2016-09-11

Classier Than Your Average Pocket Rocket

I bought this a while back, not really knowing what it was. Well obviously, it's Mural do Favaios, a fortified non-vintage Moscatel from the Douro, but why is it in this tiny crown capped bottle?

It sat around, not being drunk (for want of a suitable occasion), until tonight, when I had a sudden eureka moment - it's a pocket rocket! Which is to say, a small, strong, readily consumed slug of booze, in a handy, easily concealed format.

Having figured it out, and knowing I'd never use it as intended, there was nothing else to do but drink it. Which I did. Here are my observations.

Nose: faintly reminiscent of oloroso sherry. Or tawny port. Or somewhere in between. Toffee, and a hint of struck match.

Palate: 17%? Really? Actually, there is a bit of heat in the finish, but the attack and mid palate are very light. Watery, if one could have sticky water. For sticky it is, in a pleasant toffee apple fashion.

Conclusion: It's very simple, but it's also rather direct and to the point, the point being a strong wee sweetie. I sort of wish I'd bought two...

2016-04-16

Tasting Note: Chassenay d'Arce Pinot Blanc 2006


Nose: yellow fruit. Clean and fresh. Nothing to say that it's a ten year old wine. Tangy. Citrus and pineapples. Under-ripe honeydew melon rind.

Palate: there is some evolution, but it still feels pretty fresh. Very tangy and tart. Real yellow fruit character, along with a light body.

Conclusion: this is a lovely wine, and distinctively different - I've never encountered that pineapple note in any other champagne. And, as with many wines from the Côte de Bar, it's very good value for money.

Champagne Grapes
Three grape varieties, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay, account for nearly all of the production in Champagne, but (of course!) things are a little more complicated than that.

Besides the more than 30,000 hectares devoted to the big three, there are a few hectares (less than a hundred, I believe) given over to Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Arbane, and Petit Meslier. Producers such as DrappierMoutard, and Chassenay d'Arce turn out small quantities of these unusual wines, but they are not easy to find.

And for the truly pedantic among us, the Champagne appellation law of 1919 can be read as meaning that all members of the Pinot family may be used for Champagne, which seems to me like the perfect excuse for some bolshie Brit to go over there and make fizz using Viognier and Aligoté.

2016-03-07

A Visit to Westons


After spending an intense day and a half helping my very good friends at Little Pomona bottle up a batch of their cider, it was instructive to go and see Westons at Much Marcle, who are most decidedly at the other end of the spectrum, both in size and in their practice.

The site is visible from quite a distance, thanks to the dozens of vast storage tanks which give it something of the air of an oil refinery. These 200,000 litre tanks hold the pressed, sterile filtered juice so that Westons can ferment and produce all year round.


The tour is an interesting mixture. It begins in the older buildings dating from perhaps a century ago, and the emphasis is on traditional production methods; there's even a stone mill wheel on display. But  then as we move through the production area we see, for example, a press as big as a house (granted, only a small holiday chalet, but I do literally mean a press as big as a house). And then again, a series of giant wooden tuns huddled together, somehow seeming to have a cathedral-like air to them.

Westons are very proud of their modern production methods. All the apple juice they press is passed through a micro filter to remove any trace of yeast, and then stored in the giant spaceship booster tanks until it's needed for fermentation, thus allowing them to produce continually all year round.

The juice is then fermented to a strength of 11%, in the pictured wooden vats, after which it is blended to whatever strength is required.

It's a curious mixture of modern and traditional. Fermenting in wooden tuns, yet sterile filtering the juice. Much of what Westons produce is sweetened, but then many small craft producers also accept the market demand and sweeten some part of their output. And Westons do make some very good vintage, oak-aged cider.

As you can perhaps tell, I'm in two minds about Westons. I'd far rather have a funky single varietal cloudy cider from Tom Oliver or Ross-on-Wye, but on the other hand if they grew big enough to be available in Sainsbury's, the liquid would very likely not be as interesting. 

I think the way to look at Westons is rather like Guinness or Lagavulin. They're all big, heavily marketed brands, but if you go into an otherwise uninspiring pub and see them, then you know you've got something decent to drink. Perhaps not amazing, but good enough.