London’s First Wheat Whisky Made in a Transatlantic Partnership

History was made on October 6, 2016 when Sonoma County Distilling Company of California, USA partnered with the UK’s East London Liquor Company to make London’s first ever wheat whisky.


“Working with Sonoma County Distilling was the perfect opportunity to do our very own wheat.  We were able to get help and advice from Adam Spiegel, who’s had lots of experience developing his own wheat whisky, while still making the resulting whisky unique to us,” said East London Liquor Company’s Whisky Distiller Andy Mooney about the transatlantic collaboration.

The Whiskey Wash

The Whiskey Wash

The mash bill was made by Mooney in partnership with Sonoma County’s Distiller, Adam Spiegel and incorporates  60% wheat grown in the UK, 5% corn and 35% Pale Ale Barley.

Speaking a little about the mash bill,  Spiegel, stated his rationale for the addition of Pale Ale Barley to the mix.  “While we’re sort of tasting chocolate notes on the back end of it right now…[Pale Ale Barley] will give it a real vibrant flavor.  Wheat is a soft grain and plays off the environment in which it lives, so adding a distinctive barley will give it a lot of extra attention and give it sort of a little kick.”

The wash tasted sweet and pleasantly grainy, maintaining a certain weightiness on the palate.  I tried to imagine how the wash would eventually develop into whisky form. The base was admittedly delicious, so logic would dictate that this would be a whisky worth pursuing. Unfortunately, for those curious to taste the end product now, there is three years of barrel aging ahead of its eventual release to the public.

“As two businesses, we’re both fairly young. I’ve been open for six years and they’ve been open for two, so we’re kind of getting our feet wet, and still figuring out what we like to do,” said Adam Spiegel.


Sonoma County Distilling Company currently has on offer a Rye Whiskey, an in-house made Bourbon they call West of Kentucky Bourbon, and, of course a Wheat Whiskey.

“We’ve scaled ourselves up from a nano-distillery to a micro-distillery.  I hope in the future we will be considered the whiskey distillery of California,” said Spiegel about  Sonoma County.


East London Liquor Company currently offers a variety of premium Gins, Vodka, a Rum and Whisky, not to mention this new Wheat Whisky collaboration.  They also boast a bar on their premises, for those interested in a trying a variety spirits from around the world.

“Since we opened in 2014, we have worked continuously to produce honestly-priced, innovative spirits for the UK and we are delighted to be bringing whisky production back to the historic distilling area of East London following the casking of our pioneering London Rye® in 2015,” said Mooney of East London Liquor Company.

2014: Another Solid Vintage for Bordeaux Region’s Cru Bourgeois Wines


The 2014 vintage in Bordeaux started off choppy with variable cold and damp weather patterns, forcing winegrowers  to up their game in order to keep their vineyards both healthy and on track developmentally.  Luckily, as harvest approached, the weather stabilized  gracing winemakers with an above average warm Indian Summer that brought the fruit through to a good level physiological ripeness.   By all accounts, 2014 appears to be a solid vintage, not to the level of the much touted 2009 or 2010 vintages, but one that can nonetheless provide much drinking enjoyment.

It has been a few weeks since the release of the 2014 vintage Cru Bourgeois Bordeaux wines and the vintage includes  crus from 278 estates representing seven AOCs: Médoc, Haut-Médoc, Listrac-Médoc, Moulis, Margaux, Pauillac and Saint-Estèphe .  The wines have robust colors, firm tannins, balanced by primary black and red fruit flavors on the palate.  The concentration and tannins present indicate wines that have some ageability with some wines are already showing finesse.




There are a few different classifications of Bordeaux wines, so it is interesting to take a step back to look at the history of the Cru Bourgeois classification to understand the wines better.  The origins of Cru Bourgeois dates back to the Middle Ages and Bourg, a town in the Bordeaux region.  Bourg was the home of many of the Bordeaux wine region’s wine merchants and vineyard owners.   During the period of English rule, the Bourgeois were given special privileges and rights including tax exempt status on the sale of their wines.   Enriched by international trade, by the fifteenth century, the rich Bourgeois bought the best properties in the region and thus earning the name “Crus des Bourgeois.”

The intervening centuries marked by the French Revolution, the classification of 1855, the First World War and the Great Depression all impacted  the Crus Bourgeois wines in some fashion or other.  War inevitably caused disruptions in their local and export markets and sometimes the removal of preferential tax statuses.   And, the 1855 classification incorporated some of the Crus Bourgeois, listing 248 different chateaux mostly considered just a bit below the cru classes.  Nonetheless, despite all of these challenges the term Cru Bourgeois has continued on to the present day with a slight interruption in 2007 when the Administrative Court of Appeal of Bordeaux annulled the 2003 official classification of the Crus Bourgeois du Médoc.  By 2008, a new system to determining Cru Bourgeois was set into motion.

Cru Bourgeois du Médoc  can come from vineyards located in one of eight Médoc AOCs:  Médoc, Haut-Médoc, Listrac-Médoc, Moulis, Margaux, Saint-Julien, Pauillac and Saint-Estèphe.    This designation is subject to a blind tasting of samples from the estates , tasted and scored by a jury of experts made up ofprofessional tasters recognized  in the industry,  with six tasters per session.  Average of the scores are taken, if the wine obtains a score greater than or equal to the representative sample, it is a “Cru Bourgeois”.   According to Conseil des Vins du Médoc , 2014 produced 30 million bottles, from 278   estates, mostly from AOC Medoc and make up 33% of Médoc’s production.

Some Compelling Examples of the 2014 Vintage:










Chȃteau l’Argenteyre Medoc   – meaty, red currant,    raspberries, cherry made  from 55% Cabernet  Sauvignon, 30% Merlot,  15% Petit Verdot.














Chȃteau Bégadan Medoc –  deep ruby color, tea, black  plum, black raspberries,    full-bodied, firm tannins.



Chȃteau Bournac Medoc – Tannic, blackberry, brambly, very extracted, good backbone.  70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot.

Chȃteau La Gorre Medoc – Fragrant violet, floral notes herbal dill notes, black fruit: plums, black cherries.  60% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot.



















Chȃteau Aney Haut-Medoc  - red fruit: red currants, raspberries, plums. 65%  Cabernet Sauvignon,  25%  Merlot, 7% Cabernet  Franc, 3% Petit Verdot.
















Chȃteau du Cartillon Haut-  Medoc – Very lush,    blackberries, black plum,  firm tannins yet lush.  67%  Merlot, 28% Petit Verdot,  5% Cabernet


Sauvignon.Chȃteau Lestage Listrac-Medoc – Fragrant sweet red and black fruit, lots of firm tannins balanced by concentrated fruit. 62% Merlot, 37% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Petit Verdot.
















Chȃteau Liouner  Listrac-Medoc – Plummy  black fruit, very firm tannins.  70% Merlot,  30% Petit Verdot.


















Chȃteau Pomeys Moulis-en-  Medoc – Good  backbone,  violets, plums, black fruit.  55% Merlot, 45% Cabernet  Sauvignon.





The Sherry Region’s Delightful Dark Horse


It’s inky, mahogany in color, thick and syrupy; oozing with aromas of dried fig, dates and raisins.  This dense, muscular monster is punctuated with flavors as far ranging as licorice, coffee, figs, cocoa and treacle.  What is this intriguing wine, you ask?  Why, it’s the Sherry region’s most decadent “dulce naturale” wine, made with the grape Pedro Ximénez.

Some love it, while others hate this nuclear bomb in a glass. Not for the faint of heart, Pedro Ximénez or PX, the grape used to make one of the richest, sweetest dessert wines on the planet somehow manages to maintain a certain freshness and elegance that belies the fact that many examples exceed 400 grams of sugar!  Of course, this has to do with its relatively high levels of acidity.

The secret to obtaining this elegant balance is through “asoleo,”  or literally, the “sunning” of the grapes.  The benefits of drying grapes out in the sun is that the acidity remains intact as the grapes raisin and their juices concentrate.

The PX of the Sherry region is different than most dessert wines in that it is fortified with the addition of a wine spirit.  Once Pedro Ximénez has been stabilized on a microbiological level, the fermentation arrested using wine spirit, further wine spirit is added to fortify the wine up to between 15 and 17 degrees of alcohol.

The PX is then usually put into oak casks that are part of a solera, Sherry’s famous system. This allows the wine to age via fractional blending.  The final product will be a mix of different years, with the exception being “Vintage” Sherries or “Añadas,” which are aged in the same cask.

Interestingly, when purchasing sherry, you may notice VOS (Very Old Sherry) 20 or VORS (Very Old Rare Sherry) 30 on the label.  This means the average age of the solera wine is at least 20 or 30 years old.  A solera can date back to the 18th century, theoretically meaning that some drop of wine from many years ago could still exist in the solera.  In order to determine the rough age of a bottle of wine, the Consejo Regulador  uses carbon dating and puts the wine through a panel tasting.   A 30 VORS could actually be closer to 50 years old, which from a wine geek perspective is pretty amazing.

Delicious alone or with a dark chocolate cake, on ice cream or blue cheese, PX is a bargain in the dessert wine world, especially when you consider the level of aging each of these wines undergoes.    I recently tasted one that was about 70 years old and I cherished every drop in my glass.   Of course, this wine was extremely expensive, but very good PX can still be found between 20-30 GBP.

Below are some compelling examples of PX:


Fernando de Castilla is a small, independent sherry house taken over in 1999 by Norwegian Jan Pettersen.    Since then, the bodega has focused on making their Antique range of single solera Sherries top notch.

Fernando de Castilla’s Antique Pedro Ximénez VOS has flavors of sticky toffee, dark chocolate and figs.  This 20 year old is well integrated despite logging in close to 500 grams/liter sugar.


Salto al Cielo is a boutique almacenista Sherry producer.  Their Salto al Cielo Pedro Ximénez is from one single butt, so supply is very limited.  Salted caramel, coffee notes and dried prunes were among some of the rich flavors present here.









Osborne was founded in 1772 by English entrepreneur Thomas Osborne Mann, who started shipping his own sherries in 1804.   Today, Osborne owns a large bodega complex on the outskirts of El Puerto de Santa María, as well as an older bodega in the center of town that used to belong to the family Moreno Mora.  This bodega has a fantastic range of VORS sherries and is worth a taste and a visit, if you are lucky to get to the Sherry triangle.


Osborne’s Venerable Pedro Ximénez VORS 30 Year old is very elegant and full bodied, with dried dates and figs, cocoa and molasses notes.


Another cool, smaller bodega producing interesting sherries, Bodega Yuste Aurora ‘s Pedro Ximénez  is well-balanced and ready to drink now despite its density.  Loaded with figs, dates and cocoa flavors, the opaque brown-black wine toffee, black coffee flavors.


A typical sherry tasting at Lustau’s bodega, available to visitors.

Bodega Emilio Lustau is one of the most lauded producers in Sherry.   In fact, the bodega was the most awarded European winery at the recent 2015 Wine Challenge.   They definitely have an extensive range of fantastic sherries that are worthy of serious attention, and their estate tours are not to be missed, as you can see above!  I was there a few years back and had a fantastic time trying their range of sherries alongside some of the best charcuterie in my life.  It was pure heaven!


Now about their PX…Lustau’s Pedro Ximénez  VORS comes from one cask selected from a Solera of six, set aside as a family reserve in the 1930’s.  This PX is a luscious, deep mahogany with aromas of dried prune, sultana and spicy fig.  Concentrated and Sweet, the finish on this wine goes on forever.


Now, last but not least is the Bodegas Hidalgo-La Gitana, one of the oldest, family owned bodegas in the Sherry triangle. In fact, the estate is now in its 7th generation of Hidalgo’s running the bodega.  While the whole Hidalgo line-up is excellent, it is best known for its flagship wine, their Manzanilla La Gitana.  This is apparently the most popular Manzanilla world-wide and I can believe it.  I try to have this Manzanilla on-hand at home whenever possible as it is so versatile with food and in cooking.


Now back to PX…Hidalgo’s Pedro Ximénez Triana VORS 30 is a top end example of PX.  Dark mahogany, densely concentrated, with tea, date and caramel aromas and Black plum, prune and treacle flavors on the palate. This wine has a persistent, long finish.

PX is fun to drink and when paired right, can really add to an evening with friends…or alone.  In addition, the high sugar and good acidity levels means that an open bottle can remain for several weeks in the refrigerator without going bad.  Not a bad deal.

You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby! And, other musings about South African wines

img_1063 Time flies when you’re having fun, so the saying goes.  It’s hard to believe that I tasted my first South African wine circa 1996–It seems just like yesterday.  Back in those days, South African wines were just barely hitting the shelves in the US market and there seemed to be a certain amount of mystery surrounding these wines. No one seemed to know much.

As might be expected, I was excited to have my first taste of South African vino.  And one day, the occasion finally arrived, my chance for a taste!  An importer new to the wine business, looking for distribution into my market was keen to taste me on his prized Pinotage, a cross of Pinot Noir and Cinsault.

My first taste of Pinotage that day was surprising…and shocking, but not in a good way. The wine in question came from a cooperative and the importer unabashedly admitted that the wine racked in at above 15.5% alcohol!   I should have been prepared for the unbelievable hotness of the wine, but nothing could’ve prepared me for the funky medicinal, banana-ish, nail varnish flavors that I came to learn later were characteristic of poorly made Pinotage.

Thankfully, times have changed, and in the meantime, South African wine producers have learned how to hone the unique South African terroir using world class wine-making techniques.  The wines are often well-balanced with good fruit and acidity and best still, South African wines offer a big bang for the buck. These wines are commonly featured on restaurant, wine bar and pub by-the-glass menus due to the obvious value offered in terms of its quality/price ratio.

At the recent Intrepid Tasting, a tasting featuring only the wines of South Africa, I was lucky enough to taste some very interesting wines from some, perhaps, lesser-known, boutique producers.


I stumbled upon Eikendal Vineyard’s wines and was happy to taste a whole range of interesting, very well-made wines.  The one that stuck in my mind was the 2015 “Janina” Unwooded Chardonnay, probably because it was both well-made and very reasonably priced.  I often wish I could go to more restaurants and find a wine like this by the glass. From Stellenbosh, it has rich flavors of pineapple, mango and peach finishing on limey mineral notes.












Next, I found a fellow-American who recently purchased a wine farm in South Africa and started producing a range of wines.  I really liked the Straw Wine and her Chenin Blanc, in particular.  Her Botanica 2014 Chenin Blanc is lean, citrus, quince and finishes on a lightly flinty mineral note. Perfect to hangout on the porch and drink with friends and serious enough to pair with top end food.  The cool labels were created by incorporating collages painted by British artist Mary Delany in the late 1700′s.  It’s nice being able to appreciate artistry both in the bottle and on the outside of it.


Next up, is Thorne Daughter’s 2015 Old Vine Semillion.  This wine exhibits stone fruit aromas of peach and nectarine.  Weighty on the palate and filled with notes of apricot and honey it is intriguing now, but I wonder what it will taste like in 12-18 months.


Soms-Delta Amalie is a white wine blend of Viognier and Grenache Blanc. The Grenache Blanc grapes are desiccated on the vine following an ancient Greek practice that concentrates color and flavors. The Viognier was sourced from six different sites to achieve a complex flavor profile. Both grape varieties were fermented and matured separately in new French oak barrels for a slow fermentation and extended lees maturation, and were blended prior to bottling. Amalie has intense fruit flavors of tangerine, honeysuckle, vanilla, layers of complexity and a well-integrated tannic structure and lingering finish.


Solms-Delta’s 2015 Rose is made up of mostly Grenache Noir 97% and a touch of Cinsault 3% Style of Wine this dry rose is like a bowl of fruit freshly picked at peak ripeness in summer, with raspberry, strawberry and a touch of green apple on the finish. This Rose has a beautiful  pink- salmon color that reminds me of one of my favorite Rose Champagnes.


Now, back to South Africa’s famous Pinotage.  Eikendol Vineyard makes a lighter more delicate version of Pinotage.  It’s 2015 vintage is made from Pinotage sourced in Stellenbosch from a non-irrigated, 20 year old vineyard comprised of decomposed granite and koffie klip’. Aged for 12 months in Burgundian and this wine is more pinot noir-like and refined compared to many other Pinotages that display a more muscular flavor profile.  This wine is light and fragrant, red currants, wild strawberries and black raspberries.


The Bernard Series Bush Vine Pinotage on the other hand is a heavier, more alpha male version of Pinotage, but also enjoyable, nonetheless.

Rich, and packed with toasty vanilla, red and black plums, black cherries, black berries and a touch of chocolate and a bit of spicy notes, this is a heavy, full-bodied wine that must pair with game and red meat very well.

The Bernard Series Basket Press Syrah is made up of a blend of Syrah (98%) and Viogner (2%) this wine is an aromatic wine with hints of mulberry, dark chocolate and a black raspberry and violet on the palate.  Another great food wine for the BBQ or Braai.










Deux Freres is a small family owned winery located on the foothills of the Simonsberg Mountain in Stellenbosch and run by brothers Retief and Stephan du Toit.  The brothers focus is in producing quality wines that reflect their unique terroir. With their wine “Liberte,” a blend of Cabernet and Petit Verdot, they have managed to create a wine that is lush and velvety at the same time as having plenty of backbone to carry the fruit.  This Bordeaux style blend has plenty of flavor; I got lots of black plum, black cherry, current, cocoa and vanilla flavors on the palate.  Their Shiraz/Mourvedre blend and Blanc de Noir are worth exploring, too.


There has to be one “sticky” at any given tasting that grabs your attention and for me it was Miles Mossop’s 2014 Kika Late Harvest Chenin Blanc. This is a decadent treat made with 100% botrytised Chenin Blanc.  A golden, viscous, sticky treat of liquid honey, orange blossoms, dried apricot, peach and almond flavors.  Harvested at about 42 Brix/ this wine has about 147 g/l RS and 9.3 g/l Acidity, so although sweet, it has plenty of acidity to balance off the sugar.  Yum!




Some New(er) Faces on the Spirits Front


A New white aperitif, chenin Blanc based and made off of an old Cape recipe

Everyday new products appear on the market, some are hum-drum, some are just plain strange and others have the potential to revolutionize a category or at least, offer a welcome addition to what is currently on offer.  At the recent Imbibe tasting, there were definitely some interesting, fun, new,  or at least, relatively recent additions to the spirits market.


First, was a Pastis from a small micro-distillery from Cornwall, called Southwestern Distillery.   The UK’s first Pastis and a double gold winner at the San Francisco World Spirits competition, this handcrafted spirit is made with freshly foraged gorse flowers and orange zest.  The end result is a viscous, unctuous spirit with notes of anise, citrus, fennel and licorice that seems to work at soothing jangled nerves and anything else that may need calming, such as an off-kilter digestion system.  Delicious with some water and ice.


Nomad Whisky is a collaboration between master blender Richard Paterson of Whyte & Mackay and sherry producer Gonzalez Byass .  A blend of whiskies sourced from Scotland’s Highlands, Lowlands and Speyside, Nomad is aged for over five years in sherry butts before being shipped to Jerez for an extra year of aging in PX casks.  The warmth in the bodegas speeds the ageing process up, making this whisky taste more mature than its years and bringing some secondary dried fruit characteristics that only comes with age.   This blend really represents the best aspects of each of the represented Scottish regions and shows itself to be velvety, with tons of dried prunes, peach and apricot, spice, vanilla and orange, citrus notes.  Very velvety, almost sweet on the palate, this is a complex, spicy fruit bomb.

blended whisky

Boutique Whiskey Company has a number of interesting whisky’s on offer, many of which come from a single barrel.  Most of their range is compelling, but the one that caught my attention was the Blended Scotch Whisky, which is a comprised of a blend of, on average, 37 year old whiskies.   The nose is an unbelievable blend of butterscotch, vanilla, spice, pepper and floral notes.    On the palate, some caramel and tobacco.  Lots of layers of flavors and very well rounded.


Drumshanbo Gunpowerder Irish Gin a fusion of east and west, made with locally foraged meadowsweet and vapor infused oriental lemon and lime, fresh grapefruit and gunpowder.   All the botanicals smell so fresh and citrusy with lovely floral notes.  It is smooth on the palate and the botanicals are well balanced.  This is delicious straight up.


Sweden’s Gottlands Bittar is an amaro of about 38% ABV that is made up of 30 different herbs, many originated locally. A mix of herbs and sea flavors, many of the herbs included in Gotland Bittar have been used for millennia for their medicinal properties that are thought to aid in cardiovascular health and digestion. Gotland Bittar includes a distillate of beer aged one year in French oak barrels.  This is a unique Swedish drink that can be used as an aperitif or as part of a Negroni.


Windspiel is a German gin made from potatoes.  It is very broad and creamy on the palate has some woody components mixed with citrus, floral and herbal notes.   The botanicals in this unique gin include cinnamon, ginger, juniper, lemon peel, coriander and lavender.


Prohibition Pig, Home of Craft Beers, Comfort Food And Classic Cocktails


I stumbled upon brew pub-restaurant Prohibition Pig on my last trek to the green mountains of Vermont.  From the moment I walked in, I knew I struck gold. A beer selection a mile deep, not to mention their own beer offerings, this local brew pub, influence by the deep South, features shrimp and grits, brisket, pulled pork and pork rinds among other Southern specialties.


IMG_0843The bar was packed three deep and all the tables packed with people and laden comfort foods, pork-related or otherwise.


A barbecue joint that serves classic cocktails, craft beers and offers an array of comfort foods, Prohibition Pig also brews its own beer in a building behind its restaurant.  Among the selection of beers are several draft offerings from Prohibition Pig’s own brewery, including their Multi-grain IPA and Vanilla Bean Porter.  They began brewing in 2013 and the reaction from locals and visitors has been overwhelmingly positive.


The brewery is just behind the restaurant and also offers some food alongside its selection of draft beers, made from the kit shown below.


I couldn’t help but notice that the bar was stocked with some of my favorite micro-distilled spirits.   The food passing by me courtesy of the milling wait staff convinced me that the 30 minute wait for a table was a no-brainer.   Luckily, I was able to secure a table quickly and could settle in to enjoy some of Prohibition Pig’s offerings.


Below, a peek of their menu.


Our table opted to start with some pork finds and to start with an Old Fashion.


IMG_0826IMG_0826IMG_0826IMG_0826IMG_0826IMG_0827IMG_0849Now for a little fry action.  On offer are some duck fat fried french fries.


Now our entrees, a pulled-pork sandwich and their jumbo Hot Dog:



And lastly, the meal ended with Prohibition Pig’s Key Lime Pie.


All in all, a great place for brunch, lunch or dinner.  Great beer, cocktails and Southern inspired food always hits the right spot.








A Quick Overview of Southern Iceland, Along with Some Cool Spirits and Beers


Stepping off the plane and onto the tarmac, I was enveloped by the purest air that I had ever breathed. It was as if the constant stream of exhaust emitting from the multitude of commercial planes taking off and landing were fully contained in invisible bubbles.


Iceland–that one word seems to convey a feeling of purity.  Inhospitable, but starkly beautiful, Iceland is a land littered with glacier-covered mountain tops, waterfalls, rivers, lakes,  geysers and thermal pools.


The Secret Lagoon

The size of Kentucky or South Korea, Iceland is defined by its active volcanic systems that on one hand, provide cheap geothermal energy to its residents, But on the other hand, poses a very real threat to the lives of its roughly 334,000 inhabitants.  In fact, the historic volcanic eruption of 1783 was responsible for killing a fifth of Iceland’s population.


Iceland seems to be a place where nature both brutally gives and takes. The romantic side of me conjures up images of Vikings, the original settlers of this inhospitable land located just outside the Arctic Circle. Independent,  fearless and individualistic, from a bygone era where forcefully seizing life, and in many instances, your future bride, was just how things were done.


In some ways it is still possible to envision that time.  The people of Iceland today are the result of those initial settlers and the Icelandic language hasn’t evolved much since the ninth or tenth century when Iceland was first founded.


So, you are probably wondering what this has to do with wine or spirits…or food, even?  I’m getting there.


The clean purity of the waters mean that the fish are some of the best you will eat.  Anywhere.  Icelanders are rightfully proud of their pristine environment and glacier sourced water.  And as a result, they are able to leverage this asset in their beers, whiskies and liquor production, not to mention Icelandic foodstuffs.

In their quest for food independence, green houses along with geothermal technology are used to provide nutritious, pesticide and GMO free produce and spices for residents and export markets alike.  In fact, many of the distilleries are operated using only geothermal energy.  How is that for a zero carbon footprint? Bottom line, although you will pay a pretty penny for the privilege, you will eat some of the highest quality food obtainable anywhere in the world here in Iceland.

Case in point, my first meal in the country was at one of Reykjavek’s top restaurants, the Fridrik V. The five course tasting menu changes constantly, reflecting the availability of the freshest of ingredients.   Below are pictures without comment, after all, a picture says a thousand words.  Needless, to say, it was topnotch and a uniquely Icelandic experience.

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That brings me to the Scandinavian tradition of aquavits and other botanical infused liquors.  Here in Iceland, there are a few distillers producing interesting liquors using Icelandic botanicals or Icelandic fruit.  The most commonly available of such spirits seems to come from Foss Distillery, whose focus is in using birch sap along with adding birch twigs to their spirits for final maceration in the bottle.

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The first liquor I tasted was Foss’s Björk liqueur.  Made from distilled grain spirit infused with Icelandic birch and finished off with a touch of its native birch syrup with added sugar. Clocking in at 27.5% this liqueur is quite sweet.  It would make a great addition to a cocktail.

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Foss’s Birkir has nice viscosity, is nutty with just a whiff of cocoa powder alongside a woodiness imparted by the Birch twig left macerating in the bottle.  Finishing with just a perceptible amount of sweetness on the palate, this is delicious on the rocks or as part of a cocktail.

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Micro-distillery 64° Reykjavik Distillery has a line-up of interesting Aquavits and liquors.  One of their liquors is made with Crowberries, an Arctic berry. Their motto is to “use the very best seasonal ingredients; unspoiled and pure - steeped in Icelandic tradition – purify and distill those incredible flavours utilising renewable energy and crystal clear glacial water. Bottle them, and package beautifully.”

I have only been able to taste the Brennivin Akevitt or Aquavit.  Some light anise and caraway flavors, light pale lemon color.


Flóki Young Malt comes from organic Icelandic barley grown in volcanic soil at the Artic circle.  This is young and a bit sharp, but interesting…


I really like the Einstok Pale Ale, probably because it is light and crisp with some maltiness, but not too much.  This brewery blends a mix of American and European influences along with great Icelandic water to create this thirst quenching beer.  It is astonishing to know that until 1989, beer was illegal in Iceland!

For fun, I made a small video with some of the pictures and video I took when I was touring around Southern Iceland.  The dog in the video is Ozzy, the only Portuguese Water dog in Iceland.

Iceland is a very unique and beautiful place and definitely worth a visit!

Purefoy Arms: A Gastropub with a Spanish Twist


Hungry and a bit lost driving in the Hampshire countryside, I was relieved to find a lone pub open for business and still serving lunch.

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The pub was warm and inviting, a fire burning in the big brick hearth, wooden country-looking tables and chairs mixed with more contemporary style furniture; the place had the casual elegant air of a bygone era.


On the chalkboard near the bar,  I was astounded to see written the range of Lustau sherries on offer.   Sherry?!


Not really in the mode of drinking too much as I had to drive, I was interested to see the wine list offering English Sparkling wine by the glass and an assortment of other mineral driven, food friendly wines by the glass.

It was then that I realized that the Purefoy Arms was no ordinary pub.

The establishment’s owners combine Spanish tapas concepts with British pub staples and all done to the highest of standards with the best of ingredients.   The menu changes all the time, but most items have a Spanish twist like their Candover pheasant served with red cabbage, morcilla & potato croquette and wild mushrooms.   Not surprising, their sister restaurant Pulpo Negro is, in fact, a Spanish Tapas bar, located in a town about 15-20 minutes away.


I started off by ordering the Chorizo Scotch Egg, a pub favorite, but with the added dimension of Spanish Chorizo.  It came out piping hot, the chorizo flavors married well with the egg and breading, my only complaint being the sauce was a touch bland.


The olives were some of the plumpest, sweetest and juiciest olives.   I ended up ordering two orders of this.


The pea soup tasted as good as it looks.  It seemed like it was just cooked to order, as it had a fresh out-of-the garden taste and was pureed to perfection with a garnish of ham.


The hamburger was well-done and satisfying, but given all the other great things on the menu, probably not the best or most interesting choice.


The fish in the fish and chip dish was crisp and the fish nice and flakey.  The mushy peas were fresh.  All in all, a solid version of a pub classic.


There are truly some interesting items on the menu that need more exploring, examples from their February menu including sparkling Albarino…And, rabbit and clam paella with serrano ham!   The desserts didn’t sound half bad, either and there is a chocolate room on premises for those with a sweet tooth.

Video from Elixrr’s Visit to Hattingley Valley Wines in Hampshire, England

World-Class Sparkling Wines Found at Hampshire’s Hattingley Valley Wines

Hattingley Valley Head Winemaker, Emma Rice

Hattingley Valley Head Winemaker, Emma Rice

Hattingley Valley Wines has a problem; they don’t have enough wine to satisfy all their customers. Established in 2008, its first harvest in 2010, Hampshire based Hattingley Valley has already developed an enviable reputation of producing outstanding English sparkling wine.

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Right out of the gate, two of their first releases garnered world-wide recognition, the first being their 2011 Kings Cuvee, which was awarded number one English Sparkler in Decanter Magazine, and then its 2011 Rose Sparkler which won Decanter Gold.

No fluke, the awards have kept on coming in. And now, just five years in, Hattingely Valley’s wines are available throughout the UK and in around ten export markets.

“We know that some of them are the best in the world for sparkling wine, simple as that,” said founder and owner, Simon Robinson, speaking about Hattingley Valley’s selection of sparklers.

Hattingley Valley Wines was the brainchild of owner and founder Simon Robinson and the result of his desire to diversify his existing commercial farm.

“I had been interested in wine, for many, many years, and English Sparkling Wine had been getting a reputation for good quality product. So, the key to this was finding the right people to help us,” said Robinson.

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Owner Simon Robinson Taking Part in Blending Trials

Enter winemaker Emma Rice, the next key figure in the Hattingley Valley wine story. After completing wine-making gigs in Australia, Tasmania and California, Rice came back to the UK to regroup and map out her next move abroad.

But, seeing the burgeoning, dynamic English wine industry unfold before her eyes and meeting Simon Robinson changed all that. Now, Head Winemaker at Hattingley Valley, Rice is an integral member of the Hattingley Valley team.

Rice caught the wine bug at 18 with her first taste of Krug’s 1979 vintage cuvee — somehow fitting given that her current wine-making focus is in making world-class, traditionally-styled sparkling wines.

Although, influenced by Bollinger and Krug, Rice hopes that customers recognize that Hattingley Valley’s English sparklers have a “unique style” all their own. What those who have tasted Hattingley Valley wines know, is that Rice has succeeded in making balanced wines that express the pure and elegant fruit unique to England.

20160212_080116Consisting of 22 hectares of vineyard, located on 6 different sites in Hampshire, Hattingley Valley also sources grapes from partner vineyards consisting of up to 60 different lots scattered across the country. There is no doubt these lots add to the complexity of Hattingley Valley’s wines.

And as might be expected, the estate mostly focuses on the traditional Champagne varietals of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay, with special emphasis on the early ripening Pinot Noir clone Pinot Noir Précoce or Frühburgunder, a key ingredient in Hattingley Valley’s award winning sparkling Rose.


The estate currently features four sparklers in their line-up; a Classic Cuvee, Rose, Blanc de Blanc and their top of the line sparkler, the King’s Cuvee. Each cuvee has its own distinct style and place in the range offered at Hattingley.

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Rice explains, “for the Blanc de Blanc we’re looking for the very finest, purest, elegant Chardonnay of characters, then with the Rose we are very much looking for a really lovely balance between the Pinot fruit, acidity and then the sugar at dosage and a very, very delicate color,” continues Rice.

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“With the Classic Cuvee it’s very much more a rich style designed for earlier drinking, so there’ll be a higher proportion of the barrel fermented juice in that and it’ll be more of a balance between the Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, designed to be released after 12-18 months on the lees,” says Rice.

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“Then we have our Kings Cuvee, 100% barrel fermented, it comes from our own vineyards and is completely dependent on the vintage for its style,” explains Rice.

Of course the English terroir plays a major role in the making of top notch sparkling wines. “We have a perfect climate here in some respects…The climate here creates grapes that are perfect for sparkling wine at this time,” declares Robinson.

Much of England’s and Hattingley’s best vineyards are made up of Seaford Chalk soils similar to that found in Champagne. However, England’s growing season is cooler and longer than Champagne’s, with England’s season often ending three to five weeks later on average than in Champagne. This allows the grapes to grow slowly, developing complex flavors without the risk of losing precious acidity. As a result, the English terroir has the potential to create complex sparkling wines with significant aging potential.

Like Bollinger and Krug, winemaker Emma Rice is not afraid to use oak barrels in Hattingley Valley’s range of sparklers, musing that Hattingley Valley likely uses a higher proportion of oak than other English estates.

“One of our key signature wine-making techniques is the use of [old] oak barrels…Using barrels and having a lot of lees contact and relatively oxidative fermentation does help to soften the acidity.”

With the acids sometimes clocking in as high as 14 grams per liter in any given English wine vintage, learning to tame the high acidity inherent in English grapes is a top priority. However, when accomplished and ripe grape levels are achieved, there is a fresh minerality and a depth of fruit that sets English Sparkling apart from many of its cousins in Champagne, which can seem a tad flabby and lacking complexity by comparison.

“In Champagne we have a challenge with global warming,” says Champagne vineyard consultant Romain Henrion, adding “It’s too warm, so the malic acid burns very fast.” It is these acid levels that are responsible for giving some of the freshness and zippy acidity expected from the best traditionally made sparkling wines.

By contrast, England’s variable, maritime climate produces at times too much acidity and can have difficulty in obtaining the ripeness level needed for sparkling wine, despite the fact that sparkling wine is made best with “under-ripe grapes.”

“It’s more about temperature and the light… because when it’s cloudy there is no photosynthesis in the vineyards and when there is no photosynthesis there is no production of carbon matter,” explains Romain Henrion, highlighting the difficulty of obtaining grape ripeness in England.

It goes without saying that working in viticulture in the UK is a character builder.

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Vineyard Manager, Jim Bowerman

“We are on the extremity of one of the most northern regions there is growing high quality wine” said Hattingley’s vineyard Manager Jim Bowerman, adding “It’s definitely the place to be if you want challenging grape growing conditions,”


“The biggest challenge we have in the UK is the climate…Site selection is key,” according to vineyard manager Jim Bowerman, adding “A lot of our viticulture is about maximizing the exposure of the leaf to the sunshine at every opportunity, and the bunches. We are looking for a perfect gain through the summer so we get that ripeness by October. “

The English wine industry is still young and there is no doubt the full capability of the terroir is still being explored. Nonetheless, the future for English viticulture seems bright. More acreage is going under vine all the time and new players are entering the market, most notably Champagne house Taitinger who recently announced its intention to invest in an English operation.

“I think English wine will grow substantially in the next 20-30 years and will be as available as Champagne,” said an upbeat Simon Robinson.

It will be interesting to see how the industry continue to develop. The best of English sparklers have shown they can already go toe-to-toe with some of the best in Champagne. In the meantime, there is no denying that players such as Hattingley Valley are producing some compelling sparkling wines that will please the most discerning of consumers.

“I just hope people enjoy the wines we create as much as we enjoy making them,” said Hattingly Valley founder Simon Robinson.

–Christine Warner

Also, check out the Video!