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Three weeks to Christmas.

If you have not organized delivery of your hampers and wine gifts yet, well, you had better get on with it! Courier companies are just about coping, currently, but they are under more pressure than ever. Waiting until the last minute will not help anybody. Perhaps you have not chosen your gifts yet? Men, especially, are known for the stereotypical last-minute-dash. Take it from me, gentlemen, you are better doing it now. This year, if never again, shop early – and then sit back. Just think how smug you will feel getting it all done with a week or two to spare! There`s also the Christmas food shopping for many of you to think about: the smoked salmon, the turkey, the cheeses. You can order it all here, but please, do so now if you have not already. The supply line is already creaking. Our G&J turkeys are the best you`ll find, but they are in high demand and availability is limited. Our delicious cheeses are being snapped up at an alarming rate, as are our chocolates.  We anticipate shortages. Our elf, our chief hamper-packer, is on the case, sprinkling the magic dust wherever she goes. Santa is delivering parcels early, to help ease the congestion. We are all working hard to ensure everyone gets everything they want this Christmas, in a timely manner. All you need to do is to pop into the shop, drop us an email, or give us a call. We`ll take care of the rest of it for you.  But we want to do more than just supply quality product and excellent service, ladies, and gentlemen. This coming Christmas we want The Wine Centre to be a place of joy for you all to visit. Come join us for a mince pie, a chocolate, a tipple, or even just a chat. And be sure to bring your little ones to meet our elf. She will be handing out sweets between 11am and 1pm on Saturday 11th. Any other elves around that morning, you are welcome to join us. Happy Christmas everyone! 

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Another wonderful Suffolk brewery

I discovered Mole Trap bitter (3.8% ABV) in a pub, out and about in Suffolk, a very drinkable session ale, very hoppy, lightly malty, and a note of bitterness on the finish. I liked it immediately, but it wasn’t until much later I connected it to Black Adder, and then to the Mauldon`s brewery in Sudbury. Let me tell you about Black Adder (5.3% ABV):   I first tried it in 1992. I remember the year because it had won the Champion Beer of Britain competition a year before. I was living in London at the time and bought it from a specialist wine merchant in a 500ml bottle. I recall the guy was excited because it had just come back into stock. So, anyway, I bought six. I`ve always loved stout – I used to live on Guinness when overseas, rather than drink the pale gassy beers – and this had come well recommended. He wasn’t wrong either. In fact, it blew me away. So rich, dark, and creamy. Immediately I wished I had bought a dozen. Fast forward 25 years. For some reason I was trying to remember the name of that nice session beer I`d had some months before. “Fox something, no Rabbit Hole. No, vole? That`s it, Vole. Vole Trap!”. Google knew better and took me directly to the Mauldon`s brewery website. Sitting right next to Mole Trap was, you guessed it, the blast from my past, Mauldon`s Black Adder. I ended up buying the range: Mauldon`s Pale Ale, Suffolk Pride, Silver Adder, Ploughmans, and Black Berry Porter. All of them are good, but Black Adder is majestic. Tasting it again, while still stacked with dark malt and roast, it has a hoppy fruitiness it didn’t have before, as I recall it. It is less dense now. It`s probably why they call it Black Adder Bitter Stout. Still, at 5.3% ABV it still has plenty of oomph, and more`s the point, it is beautifully balanced. I suspect now it has appeal way beyond the stout lover. Cheers everyone.

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Adnams Southwold Brewery

Last week`s blog was all about a couple of new beers we added to our beer selection in the shop, having tasted them out and about in pubs.  It seems remiss now not to mention some of the others we have in the shop, because some of these, also, have been accumulated, over time, many from tasting them on our travels. All in the name of research, of course! For example, I recall tasting our Adnams Southwold Bitter on holiday at The Swan in Southwold, back in 2001, with fish `n` Chips. I had bought The Wine Centre in 1999 from the Greene King brewery, so I had started trading with just the Greene King range of ales. I was happy enough carrying on the GK tradition, until that moment. I was excited to learn all about Adnams Southwold and Fuggle hops, and how its clean bitterness cuts nicely through fatty meats, such as roasted lamb, and, of course, fatty fish batter. Even now I can`t help but smile when I call my weekly orders through, and I`m put on hold to the sounds of seagulls!  Much later I discovered Adnams Ghost Ship (4.5% ABV), not long after its launch in 2010. We were staying in a little room above The Bell Inn at Walberswick on the Suffolk coast, down from Southwold, and they were serving the latest Adnams brew which had attractive citrus fruit characters, from mostly Citra hops, and a trace of silky caramel; a brew inspired by the very pub we were in! Apparently, there had been unexplained shipwrecks, and being an Adnams pub they decided to capitalise on the story and launch a Halloween beer, “a ghostly pale ale”.  My personal favourite, however, is Adnams Broadside (6.3%). It`s a dark ruby red colour and luxurious. There was no one moment with Broadside, for me, rather I grew to love it.  I simply adore its chocolatey fruitcake richness. Next week I will introduce another brew I discovered while out and about in Suffolk, which led me to an old acquaintance – a stout from my past. Cheers everyone. 

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Nothing quite like a good pint

LOCALLY we couldn`t be luckier for Real Ale. I was reminded of this on a minibreak, back in October. On the way to Mersea Island we stopped at The Whale Bone in Fingringhoe for a bite and a pint. The sun came out, and the chestnut colour of my pint glowed an alluring bright copper-red. A small but distinct creamy head sat atop, and it smelled malty, maybe even honeyed, and floral. As it turned out, the aromas were Golding hop, said to be England`s quintessential hop, together with Boadicea hop, an environmentally friendly hedgerow variety. The Boadicea adds its own blossom, spice, and grassy notes. Its bittering characteristics are light and rounded. I took a long draught, only slightly creaming my moustache – par the course as a bearded man – and during the next seconds I was in Heaven. The liquid was silky-rich, coating my palate, while stimulating every taste bud with malt, dried fruit, honey, and a gorgeous bittersweet note. The beer was Colchester Brewery`s No 1 Copper Best Bitter (4.1% ABV). An excellent achievement. It was certainly going to be a hard act to follow, but never one to give up on a chase, the next day we went for lunch at The Coast Inn, West Mersea.  With Sunday Roast Beef I occasionally choose ale, over a red wine, but in a gastropub known for their good ales, it is a must! Today it was the turn of Captain Bob, an amber ale from The MIGHTY Oak Brewing Company in Maldon (3.8% ABV). This one has a twist of New Zealand Nelson Sauvin hops, named for its aromatics which resemble that of the white wine Sauvignon Blanc, of gooseberry and elderflower fruitiness. They add a freshness to beer, which is why the variety is widely used in American style Pale Ales.  It was smooth and hoppy with a lovely balance between light malt and mild bitterness. Two fine beers I have now added to the selection we offer here in Gt Horkesley. Cheers everyone!

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Happy Guy Fawkes Day, everyone!

Guy Fawkes was a convert to Catholicism and a zealot. His infamous Gunpowder plot – an attempt, in 1605, to blow up the House of Lords – was intended to kill King James 1st and restore a Catholic monarch to the throne. It failed spectacularly, as we know, for which he was sentenced to death. In the event, the story goes, he fell from the gallows and broke his neck, thus escaping the agonising death of being hanged, drawn, and quartered. Really, of course, Guy Fawkes should have been burned to the stake. It would have made a lot more sense of our tradition of lighting bonfires in his name, with a stuffed Guy on top, (snap, crackle, & pop), and the smell of gunpowder. It would also have made more sense if he had blown the whole place to kingdom come, at least it would have given credence to our custom of lighting fireworks. But it is what it is, a date in the calendar, and even if the dastardly deed itself turned out to be a failed damp squib, back in 1605, we`ve all enjoyed many a party on the strength of it ever since. After all, who doesn’t enjoy a bonfire and a few rockets? So, it seems to me not unreasonable to give the occasion an annual drink: a Guy Fawkes glass of something. This got me thinking. We sell Irish Gunpowder gin, which makes a very nice G&T, but I figured it wouldn’t be wise to bring the Irish into this; far too close to home, if you know what I mean; and besides, I think of it as a summer drink. Mulled wine is probably more traditional this time of year, but I`ve not had one yet that didn’t revolt me. Then it came to me: Punte e Mes, the famous bittersweet Italian vermouth, “explosive, spicy, and warming”. The perfect Guy Fawkes drink, served simply on ice, with orange slice garnish. Why not make it your November 5th tradition? £18.99 per bottle, discounted in-store.

 

 

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On climate change

I have referred to Climate Change in my blogs over the years. I have speculated as to the effects of global warming, specifically apropos of the world`s vineyards and the changing landscape. I have explained what some winemakers are already doing about it, such as planting new grape varieties which are more resilient to extreme heat; and experimenting with new methods of trellising and canopy management, better protecting their vines against heatwaves, drought, and even forest wildfires. We have seen recently, in California and in Australia, the devastation these fires can wreak. In other parts of the world, it is extreme electric storms and flooding, and most damaging of all in our northern European vineyards, extreme spring frosts. These are challenging times for our winemakers, indeed, our farmers, and the risks, as well as the contingencies, are not without cost. Ultimately, of course, we are all paying for this. But what of the cause of climate change, and the steps we are all being asked to take, to slow global warming itself?  What of this cost? Humanity, we are told, is putting the world at risk by its emission of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the main culprit, carbon dioxide, or CO2. We are all consuming too much fossil fuel, and it`s got to stop. Accordingly, we are all paying for the wholesale change, from burning fossil fuel to adopting the greener, cleaner renewable energies, such as solar, wind, hydro, and so on. There`s Nuclear, as well, of course, although not renewable it is clean, and the world`s best bet if we are going to come close to zero-carbon by 2050. It`s a massive task ahead, for governments, farmers, and all of us; but we should not be doing all this like headless chickens. The likes of Extinction Rebellion with their “end of world” fantasies helps no-one. And let`s not forget “Carbon, Capture & Storage (CCS)” in our rush to be rid of fossil fuels, to ensure their continuity of supply is not cut off before we have in place the sustainable alternatives.   We may just have need of them yet.

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A Eureka moment

October 2nd, at 7.45pm precisely, I had a eureka moment. The occasion was the Wine Centre`s long awaited 2020 Christmas party. It was a last hurrah to our Indian summer days in the garden porch. As things turned out, the heavens opened-up and the black sky filled with sheets of rain, high winds, and fluttering leaves. There had been power-cuts in the run up to everyone arriving, so we had candles everywhere (just in case), and sure enough, with fifteen minutes to go, the lights and the electric outdoor heaters snuffed out again. There was a crash and a loud expletive from the kitchen inside (we were also cooking, of course) and now the candles were blowing out as fast as I could light them, with only a phone torch to guide me. Napkins entered the fray, flapping erratically, and I knocked a jug of water over. And then the doorbell rang, and all the lights came back on, and the heaters sprang into life again. “Good evening, everyone!” I beamed, “do come in”. Mercifully, by the time we all stepped into the porch, the storm had abated and now there was just a pleasant flurry of wind and the pitter-patter of gentle rain on its slate roof. At any rate I was in a state of heightened spirits when I opened our first bottle. We were all full of expectation, because it was none other than Ruinart Blanc de Blancs Champagne, one of those big occasion bottles. In the flickering candlelight and iridescent pink hue of the heaters, the sparkling wine appeared to be jewel-like in our glasses. Transfixed, we raised our glasses. The wine`s smell, even in the open air, was perceptively brioche, white flowers, and peach. The palate was a beautiful silky richness; cool, persistent, and intense, its effervescence a light prickle, no more than a tease. Flavours of citrus and pear imploded, then the long, creamy finish, and sense of vigour. There were smiles all around. It was going to be a good night, and everyone knew it. “Eureka”, I exclaimed.

 

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Are you celebrating National Champagne Day next week?

Anyone who read my column last week will know I am somewhat cynical about national and international days of celebration. I made the point there are far too many, and a secondary thinly veiled point that far too many are on the verge of the margins; some of them, frankly, outright obscure. Today, October 15th, for example, incredibly, it`s National Grouch Day, to honour the world`s favourite grouch, Oscar, of Sesame Street. He`s the fluffy green monster who lives in a trash can. Yep, the world`s calendar dedicates one of its 365 days of celebration to a puppet. At any rate, during my research, as I sifted through the weird and wonderful subject matter given to celebrations, I came across this one, and I sat up, suddenly alert. It read: National Champagne Day, October 22nd, 2021. I thought: Now, if ever there`s a reason for a celebration, it`s this one! Many a time I have said, make the bottle the reason for the celebration, and what better bottle than the King of celebratory bottles, Devaux, Cuvée D, Champagne. Ordinarily £49.99 per bottle, for one week only readers get £10 off when mentioning this article. Cuvée D is a unique champagne made with a proportion of reserve wine going back to 1995 and aged on its lees for over 60 months. The result is a rich and complex wine, characterized by its fine bead of tiny bubbles, vibrant acidity, and minerality. The Pinot Noir in the blend (60%) gives body to the wine, while the Chardonnay (40%) provides elegance. It is truly delicious served simply with crispy snacks; alternatively why not get creative and create your own pancake blinis using our Pinney`s smoked salmon? Oysters and mussels are equally delectable, as is Calamari, scallops, and vegetable tempura. But a word of caution: do take care to muffle that pop. Behind each Champagne cork there is, typically, 90-pounds of pressure per square inch; enough to take your eye out.  You don`t want to be spoiling your party before it`s even began.

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Happy National Fluffernutter Day

What is it with everyone, nowadays? We seem to have a national day for most everything. Today, October 8th, it`s National Hero Day. Not super-hero, that`s another day. This one is to celebrate those people who inspire us. I wonder how we celebrate that? The worship of false idols is a sin, is it not? Anyway, as it turns out, today is also National Pierogi Day; we`re perhaps better celebrating that. And as if you didn’t know, it`s a kind of dumpling. Yes, we have a day dedicated to the humble dumpling, for Goodness-sake! It`s also, of course, as the title suggests, National Fluffernutter Day, where, in New England USA they pay homage to the childhood sandwich of peanut butter and Marshmallow Fluff, squished between two slices of bread. It`s a big deal there, like pancake day here, except its roots are in World War 1 instead of Christianity, and it`s even more sickly. Today is also American Touch Tag Day – like Sports Day for kids in America, without the pressures of competition.  ALL THIS, in just one day! LOOK, I don`t want to come across more cynical than I am. I get it, a lot of people want to promote their cause. We do it ourselves, within the drinks industry. Off the cuff: April 17th is Malbec Day, May 7th Sauvignon Blanc Day, May 21st it`s Chardonnay`s turn, August 18th Pinot Noir, and so on. A date for every grape practically. There`s even a more inclusive National Wine Day. Basically, any excuse.  How about National Independent Wine Merchant Day? I think that would be a very worthy cause, don`t you? Even better: a week, or a month!  But then, cluttering up the calendar is exactly what everyone is already doing, and that`s my point. A day to remember “a thing” has become a blurred nonsense that no one remembers anyway, such is our busy lives, so why not just leave it to birthdays. Stop cramming our lives with phoney dates.   And lift a glass of whatever you fancy, whenever you like. Cheers everyone.

 

 

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Uruguay – a gem in the South American crown.

I was surprised to learn that Uruguay is the fourth largest wine producer in South America, after Argentina, Chile, and Brazil; surprised, because it is the second smallest country in South America, after little French Guiana. It goes without saying, therefore, that wine is not just important to its economy, but also to its culture. Moreover, it is grown everywhere. I found this quote: “From East to West and from South to North, vineyards can be found all over the country. A land of wines”. Yet, it`s also true that most of Uruguay`s best wines come from the south and south-east, from the hills around its capital, Montevideo, and east along the coast to Maldonado. There, the vineyards are cooled by the Rio de la Plata, the world`s widest river, and the Atlantic. And the vines which flourish most are Uruguay`s most important grape varieties: in red, the Tannat grape, yielding dark, structured wines, ideal for drinking with their great beef steaks; and in white, Albariño, perfect with their plentiful Atlantic seafood. Both are indigenous to Europe`s Iberian Peninsula, brought over by the Spanish colonisers. Bodega Garzón is a family-owned winery in Maldonado which specialises in these grape varieties and has impressed critics, of late, for the purity and character of their wines. We are thrilled to be stocking them, adding these two Uruguayan wines only, for the time being, to the great wall of Chilean and Argentinian wines in our shop. A gem in the South American crown…  Garzon Reserve Albariño 2018, £20.99, has a bright yellow-green hue and an intense peach and citrus nose. The freshness and minerality on the mid-palate is superb, ably supported by a remarkable acidity which frames the juicy fruit. Garzon Tannat Reserve 2019, also £20.99, is deep purple in colour, with aromas of black plums and raspberries, and a hint of spice. On the palate, this is a full-bodied wine, with ripe tannins, a solid, fruit core, and notes of chocolate, tobacco, and mineral. Both are highly recommended. On offer in-store now.