Category Archives: Taste Test

What to drink when you’re not drinking

I’ve struggled to write this post several times as I have to be honest, the adult soft drinks category leaves a lot to be desired! For those of us – pregnant, driving, having a night off the sauce – who want something refreshing without half a packet of sugar dumped in, the options are still incredibly limited.

Having spent the last nine months opting for soft options (today is my baby’s due date but s/he’s showing no signs of making an appearance), I have to say I’m looking forward to enjoying a glass of wine in the not too distant future!

In the meantime, I’ll be sticking to these tried and tested soft options.

Good ol’ sparkling water

Now, humour me here – when it comes to something dry, refreshing and a tad more exciting than still water, sparkling water is actually pretty good at fitting the bill. I’ve tried A LOT of sparkling water over the past nine months, and while some can be excessively carbonated, Badoit Sparkling Mineral Water is much more subtle. Pour into a wine glass with ice, a squeeze of fresh lime and a few mint leaves and you could (almost) fool yourself that you’re drinking something more exciting than water!

Seedlip

It took me a couple of months to get on board with Seedlip – mostly because I was astounded at the £27.99 price tag for something once, albeit unfairly, described to me as flavoured water.

Billed as the world’s first distilled non-alcoholic spirit, this intriguing drink is made much like gin – using a handful of botanicals such as peas, hay, spearmint, rosemary, and thyme for the Garden 108 version, and Allspice, cardamom, lemon, and grapefruit for the Spice 94 version. Much like gin, you can drink it with tonic, or as an ingredient in cocktails and it comes in one of two beautifully designed bottles. Unlike gin however, this innovative product has no sugar, no calories, and no booze!

 

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Back in December, as a gin-lover with nine months of alcohol free nights ahead, I was interested to give Seedlip a try and was very pleasantly surprised. As hinted at in the names, the Garden version has a very herbal profile while the Spice is much more aromatic. For me, Garden 108 evokes flavours I associate more with spring and summer, while Spice 94 would be at home alongside the richer, spicier flavours of autumn and winter. Seasons aside, neither of them is sweet (hurrah!)

Taking the price tag out of the equation – I figured I’d be saving a small fortune on nights out and at weekends without my usual cocktail aperitif or glass of wine to accompany dinner – this product is incredibly exciting and worth trying if you are unable to/ don’t fancy an alcoholic drink. Plus, you’ll feel very smug the next day without that wine hangover!

Not only can you buy Seedlip by the bottle in Waitrose, but the website directs you to a number of bars and restaurants that have created innovative cocktails using these drinks so you can have something more interesting on a night out than soda and lime!

 

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Wine on Waiheke

An ex-colleague of mine – who moved to New Zealand last year – recently described Waiheke as her “spiritual home” and it’s not hard to see why. Just a 35-minute ferry ride from Auckland, this beautiful island is packed with stunning vineyards, beaches and olive groves which sit amongst a wonderful array of restaurants, boutique galleries and shops.

With over 20 wineries to choose from, on arrival you can jump aboard the Waiheke Explorer Hop-on Hop-off tour bus and make your way around as many of them as you please. During a day trip, we managed to squeeze in three with a leisurely lunch.

We started at Batch Winery to take in the magnificent views and enjoy some lunch from the delicious seasonal menu. It’s easy to while away the hours sitting in the outdoor marquee overlooking the Coromandel Peninsula with a flight of the estate’s delightfully fresh sparkling wines.

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Our next stop saw us wandering through the vineyards of Goldie Estate where we received a very warm welcome alongside some incredible wines to taste. Among my favourites was the juicy, ripe Rosé 2016. Made from 100% Merlot grapes, this fresh and delicate wine was swiftly purchased to accompany our BBQ later that evening. From the reds, it was the award-winning Reserve Syrah 2013 which really hit the spot. Bold and elegant, this wine was full of rich dark fruit flavours with hints of mocha and sweet spice.

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Our final stop of the day was Cable Bay where you can sample as many as 10 different varieties – from Pinot Noir to Chardonnay – grown in one of two small lot vineyards located on Waiheke and in Marlborough. Of the bunch, I recommend the delightful Viognier 2016. With floral aromas and flavours of apricot and elderflower, this enticing wine is spicy and complex and would be a perfect match to a Thai green curry or fiery papaya salad.

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Despite its status as a producer of artisan wines, this renowned wine region doesn’t make enough for mass export to the UK. You can source a small selection online at The New Zealand Wine Cellar or you could use wine tasting as a reason to book a trip to Auckland. Just in case you need an excuse!

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Hunter Valley

I recently returned from an epic Christmas/New Year trip to Australia, Fiji and New Zealand – hence the radio silence – and it wasn’t without a wine tasting or three.

One particular highlight was a day trip to the Hunter Valley from Sydney which we organised ourselves (some of the group tour operators can be so expensive). The day before we went we simply contacted a local Avis, hired a car and bought ourselves a map.

A two-hour drive north of Sydney is all it takes to find yourself surrounded by rolling vineyards with a winery at every turn. One of Australia’s most well-known wine regions, the Hunter Valley is famous for wines produced from Semillon and Shiraz grapes, and most wineries offer cellar door wine tastings and vineyard tours.

We managed to squeeze four winery visits and a picnic into our day. Here’s who we went to see.

Mount View Estate is an award-winning winery based in the Mount View mountain range. Producing wines grown from 45 year old vines on rich, volcanic soils, the highlights for me included its enticing selection of whites, such as the elegant 2015 Reserve Chardonnay and fresh 2016 V Series Verdelho.

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Established in 2006 by the Burton family, Gundog produces premium single vineyard wines from the Hunter Valley and Canberra regions. Named after the family’s gundog Karl Marx, the winery produces an incredibly aromatic 2016 Wild Semillon and medium-bodied, savoury 2015 Hunter’s Shiraz.

Probably the most recognisable name of the bunch – Mcguigan – was our third visit of the day. With a delicious cheese shop next door serving tasting plates, the cellar door tasting team offers samples of a wide selection of varieties, such as the ripe, citrussy The Shortlist Riesling.

Our final stop was at Audrey Wilkinson which had to be my favourite visit of the day. Founded in 1866 by the Wilkinson family, this state of the art winery sits atop a gorgeous hillside in Pokolbin and produces everything from the luscious and spritzy 2016 Winemakers Selection Moscato to the rich, cherried 2014 The Lake Shiraz.

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You can stock up on Gundog’s Smoking Barrel Red at The Oxford Wine Company, Waitrose stocks a small parcel of the very delicious Audrey Wilkinson Chardonnay for £14.99 and Mcguigan wines are widely available throughout the UK.

Stay tuned to hear all about Waiheke Island!

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Christmas is coming…

The goose is getting fat and all that. Is it really the 1st of December already? Cue panic Christmas online shopping and frantic list-making. I’m actually going to be enjoying the festive season from a beach towel in Australia but that hasn’t stopped me scouring the shops in search of festive fare. I’m nibbling on a mince pie as we speak.

Here are a few of my favourite great value wine selections to kick start your Christmas wine rack. Enjoy!

Bissinger Premium Cuvée Champagne

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With a fine mousse, enticing flavours of lemon citrus and hints of toast and hazelnut, this Champagne will make a welcome addition to your dinner table this Christmas. You can pick up a bottle of this fizz for £16.99 in Lidl and, while you’re there, make the most of the impressive seasonal aisle packed with everything from Christmas chocolates to lebkuchen.

The Exquisite Collection Muscadet Sevre et Maine Sur Lie 2015

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An excellent all rounder, this French white wine is a steal from Aldi for just £4.99. Fresh and crisp with a hint of brioche, try it alongside smoked salmon, shellfish and white meat.

Truly Irresistible Domaine de la Noblaie Chinon 2014 

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I continue to be impressed with Co-op wines and this versatile red, priced at £9.99, doesn’t disappoint. Made from 100% Cabernet Franc in the Loire, this is an excellent choice to accompany red meat and rich turkey with all the trimmings. With earthy aromas, ripe cherry and raspberry fruit and a hint of liquorice, it’s sure to be a hit with family and friends.

 

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Pinot and pork

The latest wine tasted from Aldi’s limited edition selection in my household was De Bortoli G.S Pinot Noir from the Yarra Valley in Australia.

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Priced at £7.49, this supple red with ripe cherry fruit and a hint of spice is excellent value, juicy and enticing.

Delicious on its own, I can vouch for this medium-bodied red alongside smoky pork tacos such as these from BBC Good Food. The perfect midweek food and wine combination, even if I do say so myself!

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Aldi strikes again!

Most people I know are probably sick of hearing me harp on about Aldi but it really is excellent value for money and every time I pay my local store a visit, I come away with something new – coconut oil for less than £3? Yes please! Bags of nuts and seeds for less than half the price of those on the shelves of most health food stores? Oh, go on then.

On top of that, just last month, Aldi introduced an exclusive and “eclectic” range of limited edition wines – priced between £4.99 and £8.99 – from some of the world’s greatest wine regions in honour of its Wine Festival. These include Nonius Estate Feteasca Neagra Shiraz from Romania, Artisan Gewürztraminer from Tasmania and Furmint from the Tokaji Region of Hungary to name a few.

Of the three that I have tasted so far, I’ve been more than impressed and fully intend to continue tasting my way through the range over the coming weeks. Watch this space!

Ried Seiber Wachau Gruner Veltliner Reserve 2015, £6.99

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This single vineyard Austrian Gruner Veltliner is incredible at this price. Dry with notes of peach, citrus and white pepper, this intense white has a wonderful, mineral finish and lingers delightfully on the palate.

Try with – roast chicken

Mirella Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico 2015, £5.49

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This zesty and refreshing white from the Verdicchio grape is dry and enticing with lemon zest flavours and a slightly nutty finish.

Try with – grilled king prawns

Edition Fritz Keller Baden Pinot Noir 2014, £6.49

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Fragrant and light with red cherry and strawberry flavours, this red has a warm, spicy edge to it with lots of complexity considering its youth (and price!)

Try with – barbecued meats and hard cheeses

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Everything is just peachy

When my fridge is lacking in supplies and I’m lacking inspiration on the recipe front, it gives me joy to discover that the M&S dine in two for £10 is on (small things I know). Still in shock from the referendum result, I was in such a state on Friday as I aimlessly wandered around the aisles of my local Marks and Sparks after work.

Food aside (the main of pork saltimbocca was delicious), I picked up a bottle of Peach Garden Chardonnay 2015 as part of the deal. Hailing from the Thracian Valley in Bulgaria, this very lightly oaked, peachy white is delicately spiced and brimming with flavour. I’ve reviewed a Bulgarian Cabernet Sauvignon and Mavrud previously but this was my first Bulgarian white wine and one which I’ll definitely be sipping again. While it was excellent with the pork, next time I’ll give it a go with a creamy dish such as spaghetti carbonara to really make the most of its rounded character.

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I’ve added the Peach Garden Rosé and Peach Garden Merlot to my shopping list for next time I’m passing M&S – at just £7 a bottle, they are well worth a try!

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