The Wonderful World of Whisky

1 December 2015 by Ben

With the price of some single malt Scotch reaching dizzying heights, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the best whiskies must be the most expensive….in fact nothing could be further from the truth!

Whisky lovers around the world are now routinely searching for great quality drams that offer better value and incredibly unique flavours.  This demand has been met by some seriously innovative whiskies from traditional whisky producing nations such as Canada, Ireland and the U.S.  In addition, you may have noticed English, Welsh, Swedish, Indian & Taiwanese whisky slowly appearing in shops and bars across the UK as horizons broaden. The growing popularity of these whiskies is no fluke. They’re gaining accolades from top critics and scooping up numerous awards along the way.

Excitement builds each November ahead of the publication of Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible, which last year famously named Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013 as their winner.  This year not one Scottish whisky made the top 5. The coveted top prize was taken by Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye from Canada, followed closely by whiskies from the U.S, Ireland & Japan.

Here at The Good Wine Shop we like to keep our ear to the ground and seek out the best offerings from the ever evolving world of Whisky.  Below are just a small selection of some of the ‘new kids on the block’ who are making a stir in the whisky world

Mackmyra Brukswhisky, 41.4%, Gävle, Sweden
MackmyraSwedish whisky may be new to most of you reading this article but for a number of years now it has been gaining a fantastic reputation internationally.  Awarded a gold medal as ‘Best in Class’ at the annual International Wine & Spirit Competition (IWSC) in 2010, Mackmyra has been making waves ever since.  This is a wonderfully light and fruity style of whisky reminiscent of Speyside.  The nose is clean with light, spicy notes of Swedish peat and juniper. On the palate there are hints of butterscotch, citrus and pear.  Mackmyra is very approachable and great for those who like their whisky on the lighter side.

Nikka Coffey Grain, 45%, Miyagikyo, Japan
Nikka CoffeyNikka operate two coffey stills (both of which were imported from Scotland in 1963). They reside at their Miyagikyo distillery and are used to produce grain whisky for their house blends. This coffey still yields a greater depth of flavour than modern column stills used by other distilleries. As a result Nikka coffey grain has an exotic, fruity characteristic which has caught the imagination of whisky drinkers around the globe.  Nikka coffey grain is distilled mainly from corn and is a unique dram if ever there was one.  Whisky Advocate voted this dram as #9 in their recent 2015 whisky review with a score of 92/100. It’s a great example of Japanese whisky making at its finest.

High West Whiskey, Double Rye, 46%, Park City, Utah, U.S.A.
High WestHigh West is Utah’s first distillery since 1870 and opened its doors in 2007.  Rye whiskey has become increasingly popular over the past few years and this Double Rye certainly doesn’t disappoint.  A blend of mature 16 year old rye and a fresher, spicier 2 year old rye, High West is surprisingly light, floral and honeyed on the nose yet driven by dry and spicy, peppery flavours on the palate.  There is a small proportion of corn in the mash bill which adds some sweetness to balance the blend.  If you have enjoyed Rye whiskey in the past and are looking for something unique then look no further!

Teeling Whiskey, Small Batch Rum Cask Finish, 46%, Dublin, Ireland
TeelingIrish whiskey has been going through a bit of a renaissance in recent years, perhaps in part due to its major stylistic difference to Scotch.  Irish whiskey is mostly triple distilled and peat is rarely used, resulting in a style which is lighter and smoother in nature.  Irish whiskey is now the fastest growing spirit in the world with numerous distilleries opening in the last decade.  Teeling Whiskey, with a heritage stretching back to 1782, have recently opened Dublin’s first distillery in over 100 years.  This is a wonderfully smooth whiskey with a rich palate of vanilla, caramel, cinnamon and orange blossom.  This small batch whiskey is incredibly versatile and is great for mixing in long drinks.

These are exciting times in the whisk(e)y world and we’re constantly tasting, scoring and exploring the latest arrivals on the scene so that we can offer our customers something unique.  So, the next time you’re looking to pick up a winter warmer we invite you to be adventurous and spread your whisky wings.

California Dreaming

2 February 2015 by Dave

While the days are at least starting to lengthen, we still have a few months of winter left and I find myself longing for the glorious two weeks I spent in heart of North America’s wine country last August.

While every state in the USA produces some wine and the likes of Oregon and Washington are starting to gain vinous reputations, California remains king.  If California were a country it would in fact be the fifth largest producer of wine by volume.  The style and quality of the wines vary wildly, from commercial styles produced in the huge Central Valley to the world beating (and eye-wateringly expensive) icons of the Napa Valley.

Dave tasting wines at Frogs Leap

Dave tasting wines at Frog’s Leap

During my stay I visited a couple of wineries from which The Good Wine Shop sources its Californian range.  Frog’s Leap can be found in the small sub-region of Rutherford about thirty minutes drive from Napa itself.  If you’re visiting do note it’s also spitting distance from the excellent Goose and Gander in St. Helena where some superb cocktails are served! The vineyards are totally un-irrigated, so careful and skilled management is needed to keep the vines productive.  The extra effort is certainly worth it.  The resulting wines have an uncommon elegant restraint and freshness of acidity which can often be lacking in some of the fruit bombs of the region.

On our second day in the Napa Valley we drove out to Duckhorn Vineyards. Its traditional estate house is set in beautiful gardens and has wines to match. Visitors have the option of sitting on the veranda or out in the gardens themselves whilst working through a selection of samples.  We opted for the latter and were treated to the reassuring rumble of tanks being hosed down, rather like hearing the sea in the distance. The wines themselves are more typically Californian and certainly weightier on the palate. The estate wines were stunning and age worthy, the “ready on release” Decoy range also impressed with bright fruit, supple texture and smooth drinkability.

We’re planning to open the Decoy Red Blend for customers to taste in the Esher shop over the weekend of 27 and 28 February. We’ll also be sampling the Frogs Leap Cabernet Sauvignon. The Chiswick and Kew shops will be ‘California dreaming’ the same weekend. West Londoners should get in touch with their nearest branch to see what will be open to taste.

The Wines of Portugal – Character and Quality

2 June 2014 by

Throughout my short(ish) career in the wine trade I’ve always had a soft spot for the wines of Portugal.  I enjoy the richly fruited and complex reds and whites at a fraction of the price of their equals from the rest of Europe. What I hadn’t realised, until recently, was the incredible variety of wines that this country can produce.

pic of douro vineyards

In the past few weeks I’ve been lucky enough to taste some wonderfully individual wines from all over Portugal that have really illuminated the sheer diversity on offer. I’ve put them all together in a case of 12 which you can buy throughout June for £175 – at a saving of £31.

One of Portugal’s historical problems has been a lack of knowledge of regions and grape varieties (very few international grapes are used here) by wine consumers. To help you discover some of Portugal’s outstanding wines I’ve put together a brief profile of several of the key areas.

Vinho Verde is one of Portugal’s more familiar regions, particularly famous for its fresh, spritzy and low-alcohol whites that are made from a variety of local grapes including Arinto, Loureiro and Avesso.  In the very north of the region the Alvarinho grape (known as Albariño across the border in Spain) gives much more full-bodied, intense whites with flavours of peach, apricot and citrus. Two to try: Quinta da Raza Arinto, Vinho Verde, 2013, Quinta do Feital Alvarinho Auratus, 2011

Portugal’s best known wine region, the Douro Valley is world famous for port but also uses the same grapes varieties to produce some fantastic unfortified wines that share port’s lush texture and rich fruit. Most reds are blends that major on Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo). These produce dense, textured, full-bodied reds with rich flavours of blackberry, dark plum and liquorice. Excellent with richer red meat dishes but such is their softness that they can be very enjoyable alone. Whites from this area are rarer but just as enjoyable and tend to marry full-bodied, textured mouthfeel with wonderful perfume and acidity – almost a cross between white Burgundy and Riesling!  Two to try: Quinta do Crasto Branco, Douro, 2012, Passadouro Tinto, Douro, 2011

A map of Portugal's wine regions

Map: Courtesy Wines of Portugal

My current favourite region is the Dão. Here cold, damp, winters and long, dry but not overly hot summers combine with granite and schist soils to produce superbly balanced and elegant wines. The reds typically blend Touriga Nacional’s lush, powerful textures, Alfrocheiro’s rich fruit and structure and Jaen’s delicate, balanced aromas. The end result can often be compared to more masculine styles of red Burgundy such is the delicious elegance and perfume of the wine. For whites the most successful grape is Encruzado which can make well-balanced, full-bodied whites with an appealing mineral character that respond well to oak ageing – reminiscent of white Burgundy but a little more tropical in fruit character. Two to try: Encruzado, Quinta dos Roques, Dão, 2012, Elfa Tinto, Casa de Mouraz, Dao, 2010

Bairrada lies just to the west of Dão and uses the Baga grape to produce fairly robust, structured wines with generous flavours of blackberry and blackcurrant that can evolve to cigar, honey and spice with proper ageing.  Fans of Barolo and Barbaresco should definitely not miss these.  One to try: Vinhas Velhas Tinto, Luis Pato, Bairrada, 2010

Just south of Lisbon is the Península de Setúbal where wine styles can vary greatly and many different grapes, both native and international, are used.  Some of my favourites blend native Portuguese varietals with international grapes such as Chardonnay and Syrah.  There’s some amazing value to be had here and the wines are often a little more approachable than others so it may be a good place to start exploring the wines of Portugal.  Two to try: Adega de Pegoes VR Branco, 2012, Colheita Seleccionada Tinto, Adega de Pegoes, 2009.

Hopefully this will have gone some way towards demystifying this hugely rewarding corner of the wine world.  If you’ve been inspired do consider my Perfect Portugal Case or come in and browse our Portugal shelves.

Gin, Glorious Gin!

1 May 2014 by
Pic of sacred sitillery

Ian Hart’s Sacred Distillery

When our Chiswick shop opened in March 2012 we stocked a grand total of five gins.  Fast forward two years and we now have 15, with plans to add more before the end of the year.  The change in focus from big brands and familiar flavours to small producers and more unusual styles has been striking and now gin is one of the most innovative spirits in today’s market.

Reputedly invented in Holland in the mid 16th century and popularised in England after William of Orange, ruler of the Dutch republic, occupied the English throne with his wife Mary in the glorious revolution of 1688, Gin rapidly became one of the country’s most popular drinks thanks to ease of production and heavy taxes on imported spirits.  Thanks to its ready availability and cheap price Gin rapidly became extremely popular with the poor and was (according to Middlesex magistrate’s court) “the principal cause of all the vice and debauchery committed among the inferior sort of people”.  At the peak of London’s infamous ‘Gin Craze’, half of London’s 15000 drinking establishments were gin shops!  Various governments legislated to reduce gin consumption and production, including imposing a levy of £50 per year on distilleries (from which our own Fifty Pounds Gin takes its name) and the craze eventually subsided as demand ebbed.

At its most basic level gin is essentially a recipe – a mixture of various herbs, spices and other flavourings (collectively called botanicals) macerated in a neutral spirit.  Although the predominant flavour must be juniper, this allows virtually limitless possibilities (not all of them good of course) for a budding ginmaker.  Our gins are all very different and so to help you choose the perfect gin for each occasion I’ve come up with profiles of four of my favourites:

Jack Cain’s Premium Gin is our biggest selling gin and it’s not very hard to see why.  Produced by Wylam brewery just outside Newcastle and named after a local raconteur, Jack Cain’s trademark flavours of elderflower, honeysuckle and sweet spice make it a lovely summer gin.  Too much tonic can muffle the flavours of a delicate gin such as this so I’d suggest equal parts tonic and gin to get the best out of it; more advanced drinkers should try it neat over ice…

One of our newer acquisitions, Dodd’s Gin is unique in that the blend changes very slightly depending upon the season.  The spring/summer blend contains slightly more red raspberry leaf and honey than the autumn/winter blend which is a little heavier on cardamom and ginger.  While only very slight, this is the sort of attention to detail that comes from such small production and dedication. Coming in at 49.9% abv Dodd’s is perfect when paired with plenty of smooth, flavoursome tonic and so is my gin of choice for a traditional long G&T.

Sacred Gin is made by ex city trader Ian Hart in a distillery he set up in his own house in Highgate North London with a vacuum plant in a wendy house in the back garden.  A true perfectionist, Ian distills each of the 12 botanicals separately before blending the results to create a uniquely delicate yet flavoursome style.  Although first rate in a G&T, Sacred’s lush, smokey flavours really shine in a Martini.

Of course it’s not just the UK that can make great gin as Death’s Door from Washington Island Wisconsin proves.  Utilising only three botanicals (most gins have at least seven and some as many as 20!) it is a creamy, full bodied gin that can stand up to plenty of tonic or shine in a cocktail, but is still delicate enough to be enjoyed neat over ice; so useful I’ve always got a bottle at home!

These four are only scratching the surface as we have many more in stock at both shops and are always on the look out for new additions.  Even better, we have all these gins and many more open to taste so drop by and do some research of your own!

Image courtesy Sacred Distillery