The days are getting longer, it should be getting warmer and we are now allowed to entertain friends and family in our gardens again. In general there’s a slight feeling of positivity, compared to this time last year. I say – Let’s embrace it with a drink in hand!
Whether you’re putting on garden drinks this Easter, planning a family barbecue or doing a full-on alfresco roast, I’ve got some great drinks choices for you. So, sweep the patio, prune your shrubs and polish those glasses as there’s a great spring and summer ahead!
Sometimes it’s nice to start proceedings with a gin and tonic in hand and there are certainly plenty to chose from these days! If you fancy something bright and fruity, the guys at Didsbury gin have got you covered with their Strawberry & Sicilian Lemon Gin. Lifelong gin-lovers Liam and Mark forged their friendship over many a nights sipping gin in various venues in Didsbury, Manchester. Inspired by their passion for their beloved local area, they founded the company to make top class gin and to focus on innovative and vibrant handcrafted flavour infusions. The exciting blend of British strawberries and Sicilian lemons is fun, slightly sherbety and is a lovely way to start a celebration. Didsbury Strawberry & Sicillian Lemon Gin is £29.95 from https://www.didsburygin.com.
If you’re the driver, or alcohol is not your thing, never fear as there has been an explosion of non-alcoholic spirit alternatives hitting the market in recent months. One of my favourite ranges has to be Ceders which is a range of distilled non-alcoholic spirits made using exotic botanicals from the Cederberg Mountains in South Africa and classic gin botanicals. Their ‘Classic’ is a great G&T alternative but it’s their ‘Crisp’ that is an absolute delight. It’s refreshing and beautifully balanced with prominent notes of cooling cucumber balanced by hints of juniper and camomile. Honestly, these sort of drinks aren’t I usually my thing, but this is a delight. It’s a bit like a Hendricks and tonic without the alcohol! Their range is widely available. For more info go to https://www.cedersdrinks.com.
Fizz is a must if you’re entertaining this spring and I’ve got a couple of beauties for you. I love a drop of Great British bubbly and I recently tried a great one from Ashling Park Estate near Chichester. Situated in the glorious South Downs, the estate is making some stunning sparklers under the watchful ether of Gail Gardner and her family (including Rocco and Bean, their two dogs – an English Pointer and a Beagle). As an intro to their award-winning range, try and get your hands on the Ashling Park Cuvée NV. A classic Champagne-like blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunière made in the traditional method, it’s a sophisticated sip. On the nose there are hints of meadow flowers, stone fruit and lemon zest and on the palate you get a lovely soft marshmallowy bubble. It’s bright and fruity to taste with more hints of stone fruit but with savoury, buttery notes developing. There’s a mellow, creamy finish with great texture. It’s lovely now but apparently it will age well too.
This lovely fizz is £29.50 and is available at https://www.ashlingpark.co.uk.
If rosé bubbles is your thing, I want to introduce your to something rather special. 2021 marks the 50th anniversary of Cap Classique which is the name of bottle-fermented sparkling wine made in the traditional method in South Africa. It is not region specific, and there are many wine-making areas producing this type of sparkling wine. The UK is the biggest export market for this fab fizz and there are some lovely white and pink examples on our shelves.
Pierre Jourdan Belle Rose NV is a beautiful celebration of Pinot Noir from Franschhoek. It’s named after a French Huguenot who established the Cabrière farm, where the grapes are grown in 1694. The nose is gentle with subtle hints of strawberries & cream. There is also great strawberry character in the flavour. It’s elegant with a touch of complexity. It’s fresh but ripe on the finish. I recently took part in a virtual tasting of Cap Classique wines and this was described as the perfect ‘picnic wine’. Someone else said that it’s made ‘to go with salmon and sunsets’. I LOVE these explanations! I also think that it would be a brilliant brunch fizz – smoked salmon and scrambled eggs would LOVE this wine! This pink sparkler is widely available at the ridiculously good price of £17.99 from Hard to Find Wines. For more info go to https://cabriere.co.za.
While we’re on the subject of gentle yet delicious rosé, I recently tried a lovely Italian pink from Lidl. Bardolino Chiaretto is from the beautiful Veneto region in North East Italy. The nose is of vibrant red currents and fresh wild strawberries in the morning dew. The wine has a creamy texture in the mouth and has a gentle freshness with a little pinch of pepper and gentle acidity. It’s the perfect partner for spicy tortilla chips – trust me, I have put in a lot of research! A prawn cocktail would also love it. But if you’re not eating, it would be fab chilled down as you absorb the sun in the garden. This lovely wine is £6.99 and is available at https://www.lidl.co.uk and in store now.
And whilst we’re browsing the wines of Lidl, I tasted I wine I’d LOVE you to try. It’s Tokaji Furmint Vicarius from Hungary which is £7.99. This wine has a mineral nose with hints of apricot and orange blossom. On the palate it’s bone dry and zesty with a light herbaceousness and hints of aniseed. There’s also a creamy texture to it which makes it great with food. I tried it with a homemade fennel salad with a whole grain mustard and lemon vinaigrette and topped with hazelnuts and it was absolutely divine! It’s the perfect wine and salad combo to accompany a barbecue.
I’m a big Riesling fan and I find it’s great with spring salads in all their glory. Think wild garlic, fresh soft herbs and greens, and you’ve got to think Riesling. One of my favourites is Esk Valley Riesling which is a dry example of this versatile grape from Marlborough in New Zealand. It has an exciting aroma of freshly squeezed lime juice accompanied by that hint of petrol that you get from a good Rielsing. In the mouth, it has great texture with a slightly oily feel. There is plenty of fresh lime on the palate with a hint of Sichuan pepper. There’s also a little underlying peach on the finish and a hint of sherbet. It’s subtle, elegant and delightfully dry. Esk Valley Riesling 2019 is £13.95 from NZ House of Wine. https://www.nzhouseofwine.co.uk.
Adnamns of Southwold may be known for their great beers and ciders but their wines are also well worth hunting out. If you’re looking for a versatile white for outdoor entertaining, you can’t go wrong with their Pecorino. This Central Italian classic is fab with fresh alfresco salads and seafood and cheese (including the local ewe’s milk cheese that shares its name) and it is perfectly at home in a glass without food to accompany it. This vibrant wine is grown on the hillsides of Chieti in Abruzzo and boasts fresh, ripe pear on the nose with a hint of spice. On the palate it’s exciting with apricot tartness and fresh green hints with balanced minerality. I love how it is both zesty and a little tropical too. You can buy six bottles of this Pecorino for £47.94 (£4.99 UK delivery). Free UK delivery over £80. Go to https://www.adnams.co.uk for their full range.
I, like many have become a huge fan of Picpoul de Pinet over recent years. The fresh easy-drinking style is perfect when the sun comes out. Paul Mas Picpoul de Pinet 2020 is an example of great wine from a talented winemaker known as one of the pioneers of the new wave of Languedoc winemaking. There’s honeydew melon and apricot on the nose with a hint of green grass freshness. On the palate there’s ripe white peach and a hint of green apple. Paul Mas Picpoul de Pinet is £7.50 and available at Co-Op. Go to https://www.coop.co.uk to look at this and the great range of wines available and where they are stocked.
And what about the cheese course? Well, Morrisons have the perfect wine to go with tangy cheeses… And it’s a white! Yes, I love red wine with some cheeses but it’s certainly not a ‘one size fits all’ mentality when it comes to matching wine with cheese. I know this might sound like an unusual match but trust me, it works: Chardonnay with cheddar cheese! Morrisons The Best White Burgundy is a beautiful example of wine from this region of northern France. It has great texture, elegant fruit flavours and a hint of citrus, and when accompanied by strong Cheddar cheese, it takes on a new identity. I made this discovery by accident recently (by finishing my white before starting the red!) but the sharp notes of Cheddar and the fleshy peach fruitinesss and lactic tang of the wine is a divine pairing. And if you like this combo, next you have to try goats cheese with Sauvignon Blanc, that’s a winner too. The Best White Burgundy 2019 is £8 in store at Morrisons and at https://groceries.morrisons.com.
If you’re having a meat-heavy barbecue or a traditional roast dinner, you can’t go wrong with good Spanish reds. Rioja is often my ‘go to’ wine with Easter lamb and Cune Crianza, 2017 is a good bet. The wine is produced by fifth generation descendants of the founding family of CVNE, which stands for Compañía Vinicola del Norte de España (The Northern Spanish Wine Company) and was founded in 1879. The wine is made mainly from handpicked Tempranillo grapes and, being a Crianza has been aged for around one year in American and French oak casks and a few months in the bottle prior to being released. (Reserva and Grand Reserva will have been aged in oak for longer.) This gives the the nose a subtle creaminess that complements the fresh cherries you can also smell here. The oak also works nicely with the soft fruity cherry flavours and liquorice of the Tempranillo. It also gives the wine a gentle, smooth texture which is really comforting. There’s a youthful juiciness here with a little spice on the finish too. Perfect for cutting through fatty and unctuous meats. Cune Crianza, 2017 is around £7 – £10 in Sainsburys, Ocado, Morrisons, Nisa and Spar.
Another Spanish treat which I’m really excited to share with you hails from Navarra in Northern Spain. It’s Viña Zorzal Malayeto Garnacha and is an example of a truly fantastic red wine. The winery is in the village of Corella, in the Ribero Baja area of Navarra, the region which borders Rioja. The area has a Mediterranean climate and sun-drenched slopes which are perfect for the grapes. The winery is run by the Sanz family and has around 70 hectares of vineyards, some of which are over 35 years old. On the nose you get ripe, juicy Blackberry with a twist of freshly milled black pepper. This beguiling wine is rich on the palate and full of jammy fruit. It’s dark, satisfying and berry-driven, but with lovely balanced acidity that will cut through roast meats brilliantly. There’s a velvety texture with balanced tannins and a splash of lovely rich balsamic vinegar on the finish. It’s just fabulous. This wine quite simply tastes so much more expensive than it actually is. Honestly, if you like this style of red, you have to give this a try. Viña Zorzal Malayeto Garnacha 2017 is £14.50 from The Wine Society. Go to https://www.thewinesociety.com for more info and to order.
And finally, it’s Vermouth time! I am obsessed with the stuff and I am convinced that 2021 is the year that my favourite aromatised wine gets top billing alongside gin as the perfect drink to sip before or after dinner. There are so many Great British producers out there making white, rosé and red Vermouth in a variety of different styles. Not only is Vermouth the perfect antidote to your ‘drink dilema’ – What do you drink when you’ve realised you need to move on from wine?! But it’s also the perfect sun downer. So, I want to introduce you to a Vermouth that is a meeting of Scottish and Italian traditions and passions. The Tait Brothers have dared to pair Italian white wine with a distinctive Scottish malt spirit in order to create this very sippable drink: Valentian Vermouth Rosso.
The range is apparently named after the land between two great Roman walls in the North of England and Central Scotland, once known as the Province of Valentia. The wine is sourced directly from small batch producers in Italy, whilst barley grown within 35 miles of the distillery goes into the malt spirit. This Rosso is a rich yet delicate vermouth with aromas of red berries, bergamot and malt barley. The berries come through on the palate and seem to be sprinkled with herbs, aromats and hints of candied fruits. You could drink this neat or in a cocktail like a Negroni or a Boulevardier but I like to drink it with tonic over ice. It really is a deliciously bitter sweet sip. Valentian Vermouth Rosso is £28.50 for a 75cl bottle and is available at https://valentianvermouth.com.