Bottles of delicious alcoholic product sent to the Lusso office. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, perhaps “wrong” is the, er, wrong word? Should we just go with “inevitable”? I mean, we had ALL the good intentions of giving you a lovely, detailed list of great things you could be drinking this Christmas. Seriously, it was going to be brilliant. Comprehensive. Eloquent. And published several weeks ago. And then lovely companies heard about what we were doing, and sent us things to try and, well, you have met us, right? You know what we’re like?
So… here’s some things you could be drinking this Christmas. And New Year. And all points in between and, frankly, afterwards because while we appreciate Dry January is a thing, have you seen the state of the country? And you think we can do that sober? It’s going to be a little bit scattergun as we go through the inbox (and the empties) but hey, in the absence of our collective bodyweights in bacon sandwiches – and that, dear readers, is a whole LOT of bacon – scattergun is better than nothing.
Let’s start light with Ridgeview, one of the UK’s leading sparkling wine producers – still family-owned too – and possibly one of the oldest, they’ve been putting good quality fizz in bottles for best part of three decades. Keep an eye out for their premium bottles, such as the Ridgeview Blanc de Blancs – their flagship bottle, good with your prawn starter – the Blanc de Noirs – only made in the best vintages with a combination of their finest pinot grapes, and ideal with a winter roast, apparently – and, if you’re serving something from the lighter end of the game spectrum, there’s the Ridgeview Oak Reserve, their barrel-fermented sparkling wine, made from some of the estate’s finest Chardonnay grapes. Take a look at the webiste for stockists and orders. Trust us, a case or two of this in reserve will improve your 2023.
We know some of you still find the world of whisky a little daunting, which is something we’ll try and address through 2023 actually. We were genuinely impressed with The GlenAllachie 8-year old, a whisky we didn’t know, from a distillery we weren’t aware of either – one of Scotland’s few independent whisky companies, apparently, from Master Distiller Billy Walker who can boast some 50 years in the industry (and a former winner of the World’s Best Single Malt award). Appropriately for Christmas, it’s a little cracker: at eight years, things are starting to get mellow and smooth, but also means the price point (a smidge north of £40) feels like a bargain for this really quite festive dram. Think Christmas cake, dark chocolate, stem ginger warmth, and nutmeg-like spice.
Let’s switch to the clearer end of things, and Discarded Grape Skin Vodka from the aptly named Discarded Spirits Co. Man. Discarded spirits. That’s a lesson we could have done with this week… They’re an award-winning brand who use unwanted and waste ingredients to create unique spirits, including this Grape Skin Vodka which does what it says on the label to impressively smooth effect.
And now for something completely different… which, coincidentally, is the dangerous philosophy we used to keep the tasting going. Whoops. Biddenden Cider though. What a little gem. Using a similar notion to ice wine, this Kentish producer leaves their apples on the tree so they get the late September sun and the early October frost. The resulting juice is intense, sweet and rich, and frankly if you want a change to port with the cheeseboard? This is what you want.
We’ve long been fans of Ireland’s Boatyard Gin since a Harrod’s tasting a few years back. This is the first year we’ve tried their Sloe Gin though. It is, as you’d expect from this distillery, one of the best examples we’ve found / sampled / carried about our persons in hip flasks. They use a very high proportion of wild sloes and steep them for six months, and it shows in great fruit and hefty juniper notes.
A little whiskey now – note the additional vowel – and a reminder how good Michter’s is. Again, the world of American whiskey can be a hard one to fathom, but Michter’s packs a lot of quality for its c. £60 price point and their production processes are first rate, thanks to their “cost be damned” philosophy which, as yet, doesn’t appear to have been passed on to the punter.
How about a little Nicaraguan rum? As someone said here about 1am… Anyway, Flor de Cana ticked some boxes. Morally, it’s a good one – carbon neutral, Fair Trade certified, distilled with 100% renewable energy – and flavour-wise it’s a delight, naturally aged in bourbon barrels, without the use of artificial ingredients. The Flor de Cana 12-Year-Old is smooth and balanced (and a bargain at around £35) but push the budget by another fiver and the 15-year aged Eco Rum is what we’d choose, all vanilla, roasted hazelnuts and dark chocolate.
Also offering remarkable bang for the buck is The Dalmore 12 Year Old, with a recommended price of £52 which, for anything from this impeccable distillery, is excellent value: the 21-year old, in contrast, is £575… Aged in bourbon casks, with some of the spirit then aged in Gonzalez Byass sherry casks, the 12 has notes of vanilla, honey, and nuts, it’s a good sipper, and at this price, throwing it into cocktails doesn’t seem criminal either.
Germany’s Monkey 47 Schwarzwald Dry Gin is named for the 47 botanicals that feature in every bottle produced. Until, that is, it’s time for the Distiller’s Cut when they add a 48th. This year, that extra botanical is Waldmeister – or Woodruff, as we call it. The Distiller’s Cut is now in its 12th year and has become a highly sought after cult thing. You might still be able to pick up a bottle from specialist stores, however.
Back to British sparkling wines… Let’s go as old school as we know how to, with Berry Berry Bros. & Rudd Champagne by Mailly, Grand Cru, Brut. As their senior fine wine buyer, Davy Zyw says, the “beloved ‘United Kingdom Cuvée’ has been the centrepiece of our Champagne range and our dining tables for decades.” It’s a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from the north-facing Grand Cru vineyards in the village of Mailly. As BBR have long argued, the big name champagnes spend most of their bottle price on marketing and keeping their name associated with luxury living. BBR’s own label is a typically superior champagne, with brioche notes, floral hints and an elegant palate of lemongrass, gingerbread and honeysuckle. And all of that is a mere £32.
One to both extend the party and provide the no doubt essential hair of the dog the morning after is Jumping Goat Coffee Vodka Liqueur. A blend of batch roasted coffee (from Papua New Guinea, no less), redistilled whey vodka (from Tauranga, New Zealand) and spices (of no fixed abode), it’s an alarmingly smooth affair with a proper coffee flavour named, apparently, after the legendary discovery of coffee. A goat herder noticed his goats were somewhat bouncy after consuming a particular type of berry and, one accidental berry roasting incident later, the goat herder had discovered coffee. A good bottle to have in reserve for the Espresso Martini fan in your life / kitchen.
Another gin now – well, there’s a LOT of gin out there, you may have noticed. Tulchan Gin is a clean, crisp spirit from the heart of Speyside featuring botanicals such as blackberry leaves, elderflower and sloe berries from the region. There’s a wee flash of tartan on the bottle making it a good choice for Hogmanay celebrations or impending Burns Night celebrations.
And while we’re in the north and sipping gin, 57˚ Skye is a fine spirit in the same tradition as the Tulchan. It’s available in two versions: 57˚ Skye earth and sea gin (£40.99), and 57˚ Skye earth and sea Banyuls Cask Finished Gin (£44.99). Both are hand distilled, bottled and labelled in Broadford, on the Isle of Skye.
As the name suggests, the botanicals in 57˚ Skye earth and sea gin come from the Isle – heather, blossom, rowan berry, yarrow – and the surrounding water, including kelp seaweed. The Banyuls Cask version takes on extra depth as it’s been aged in… well, yeah, a cask that used to contain Banyuls. The clue’s right there people. Frankly, we think it’s well worth that extra £4 investment.
When is a port not a port? Well, when it doesn’t come from the Douro Region of Portugal, obviously. But that doesn’t mean other wine makers can’t make something in that style and, when that includes the likes of Penfolds, it’s worth taking note. Penfolds Father Grand Tawny (£20) is quite the discovery (thank you wine PR gods), where this great Australian label – they’ve been making wine for 170 years – blend some great wines in seasoned small oak casks for a minimum blended age of 10 years. Big fruit, that oak warmth, something of a nutty finish… You there. Pass me the cheeseboard…
Tequila still has a bad reputation in some circles but, like bull terriers, the problem is always with the owner. Treat tequila with the respect it deserves, stop looking at it as something to shoot for a quick fix and it will reward you enormously. Maestro DOBEL is a good starting point for any tequila novice but their new Añejo tequila (£79.99) is proper chef’s kiss stuff. It’s a blend of different vintages, aged for an additional 18 months. If the concept of a sipping tequila is still alien to you, this is where you get with the programme. You can thank us later…