Cottonworth Wines

Cottonworth Wines is an English Sparkling Wine (Hampshire Sparkling Wine to be precise) producer located in the Test Valley in Hampshire. Cottonworth itself is a small village situated between the towns of Andover and Stockbridge and the vineyards are on the outskirts of the village. Cottonworth is owned by the Liddell family who have been farming the land for five generations first as a mixed farm, more recently as a crayfish farm and now as an arable farm and vineyards.

Hugh Liddell is the winemaker at Cottonworth Wines who spent two years learning about all apsects of wine-making whilst working and studying wine in Burgundy. As an aside, when the family sold some 93 acres of land (to another English sparkling wine producer) they were able to invest in vineyards in Chassagne Montrachet and St Aubin 1er Cru . These are also sold under the Cottonworth label. Hugh started off in the wine trade in retail and as a broker and was instrumental in planting the first vines on the family farm. He has also worked vintages in New Zealand and South Africa as well as studying Viticulture and Oenology at Plumpton College.

The first vineyards at Cottonworth were planted in 2005 and comprised of two acres of German and French grape varieties. Of course, the English wine landscape has changed quite rapidly since 2005 and most quality wine producers have realised the potential of English Sparkling Wine. The onus has now moved to planting the main sparkling wine grape varieties of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier rather than Germanic varieties. In 2012 Cottonworth planted a further 10 acres of vineyards with these three grape varieties. Two thirds of this was Pinot Noir which adds fruit and body to the final cuvee, as well as colour to the Sparkling Rosé. The vines are planted on half way up a south facing slope (at around 40 to 70 metres above sea level) which means they avoid the cold air that accumulates at the bottom. The vines at Meonhill Wines on Old Winchester Hill near Droxford are planted in a similar manner which was described to me as “air-drainage”, which means the cold air rolls down the slopes and sits below the level of the vineyard thus helping to prevent frost in the vineyards.

The vineyards at Cottonworth are planted on soils 40cm deep over pure chalk and are of poor quality, which means the vines work hard to send their roots far down in the chalk. This allows for a certain expression of purity and minerality in the final wine.The soils are also well-draining but retain enough water to keep the vines healthy. There are three different types of soil in the vineyards – very chalky, chalky and not chalky. These are best suited to Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier respectively.

As wine production at Cottonworth increased, they soon outgrew their own, tiny wine-making facilities (in the old dairy) and therefore joined forces with another Hampshire Sparkling Wine producer, Hattingley Valley Wines. Hattingley Valley Wines is located at Lower Wield near Arlesford, some 20 miles away, and have a modern, state-of-the-art winery and, more importantly, excess capacity. Cottonworth Wines are now made at at Hattingley Valley winery. The wines are made using the Methode Traditionelle i.e. the wine undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle to introduce the fizz in exactly the same way as Champagne, and most quality sparkling wine, is produced. Grapes are gently basket-pressed and the wine is fermented in a combination of temperature controlled stainless steel and oak barriques. After fermentation the wine is blended and bottle for the second fermentation in the bottle. It is at this stage that the red Pinot Noir component is added for the Sparkling Rosé. The wine is aged for several years on the lees prior to disgorgement.

Cottonworth makes two sparkling wines, a Classic Cuvée and a Rosé. I had always tried their wines at the annual Vineyards of Hampshire Wine Tasting and they were always very impressive. It is great to be able to stock these fantastic wines and I was very please to see that they have a very smart new presentation for 2016 too.


Cottonworth Classic Cuvée is a classic sparkling wine blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. It has a pale golden colour and is a floral, aromatic wine with hints of brioche, bready notes and some citrus / lemon notes on the the nose. It has a good mousse and is fresh and clean on the palate with good, chalky minerality. It has a clean, dry and persistent finish.

Cottonworth Sparkling Rosé is also a blend of Pinot noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier but with a higher proportion of Pinot Noir than the Classic Cuvée. It is a very pale pink colour and a very fine bead. The nose has aromas of red summer fruits (strawberry, cherry) and hint of apple. There are more red fruit flavours on the palate with good minerality and acidity. An excellent clean and fresh Rosé with a refreshing finish.

Visit the Cottonworth Wines website.

Pussers and Botran Rum Masterclass

Wednesday 18th May 2016

7.30pm at Lysses House Hotel

A tutored Rum Masterclass and Rum tasting with Pusser’s Rum Brand Advocate George Phillips and Ian Robinson of Cellar Trends Ltd.

Cellar Trends are the UK agents for Pusser’s Rum and Botran Rum in the UK and we were very luck to have the opportunity to hold a Rum Masterclass and Tasting which included a tasting of all 4 Pussers and all 3 Botran Rums available in the UK.

Pussers Botran Tasting Sheet

Pussers and Botran Rum Tasting (8)
Pussers Rum Brand Advocate George Phillips

Pussers Rum

George Phillips, as Pusser’s Brand Advocate, was in charge of the first part of the evening and proved to be very entertaining, interactive and be good at throwing chocolates around (if one answered a questions correctly!). I did not make copious notes as I have already written about Pussers Rums and there is more information about the various rums at these links – Pussers Rum Spiced, Pussers Gunpowder Proof 54.5% and Pussers Rum Blue Label 40% – but I did make some notes of interest.

Pussers and Botran Rum Tasting (7)

  1. We learned about the “Duppy Share”. As spirits are quietly ageing away in barrel quite a lot is lost to evaporation. Pussers Rum is aged in the British Virgin Islands in the tropics. As one can imagine, the rate of evaporation of rum ageing barrel in the hot, tropics is much higher than an equivalent barrel of Scotch Whisky aged in the Scottish Highland. The amount of spirit lost to evaporation is known as as “The Angel’s Share” in Scotland and elsewhere. In the Carribean it is known as “The Duppy Share”. Duppy is a Jamaican Patois word for the ghosts or spirits that are said to live near the base of cotton trees and have a taste for rum. They are said to visit rum barrels and steal the best part of the rum.
  2. The rate of spirit lost to evaporation is around 2% per year in Scotland and Cognac, in the Carribean is around 10%. Thus, when all the evaporation is taken into account, one single bottle of Pusser’s superb 15 year old rum is produced from the equivalent of 8 bottles of the Pussers Blue Label.
  3. Pussers 15 Year Old is a small batch straight 15 Year Old Rum i.e. it is made unblended from only 15 year old rum, nothing older and nothing younger.
  4. Pusser Rum Spiced, bottled at 35% abv. is not technically allowed to be called a Rum in the UK. In the UK a rum has to be 37.5% or over. This will soon be rectified and Pusser will be bottling their Spiced Rum at a higher abv. for the UK market. It still remains one of my favourite Spice Rums. It is made in a very natural way and is not as sweet as many of the dark and treacle-y spiced rums available. It is made by macerating natural spices etc. (including, and this is a guess, cloves, cinammon, nutmeg, vanilla and ginger) in a young Barbados rum for up to 14 days prior to filtering and bottling.
  5. Pussers Rum Overproof Green Label bottled at 75% abv and which is currently only available in Germany may get a limited release in the UK in due course.

Pussers and Botran Rum Tasting (4)

Botran Rum

After a quick break, Ian Robinson took over for the second part of the evening to tell us all about Botran Rum from Guatemala. Unlike Pussers Rum, which is made from molasses, Botran Rum is made from virgin sugar cane spirit. This combined with a complicated barrel ageing process, which Ian did a valiant job of explaining, produces a very different style of rum.

  1. Guatemalan Rum has its own Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) which is both a designation of quality and geographical limitation. It means than certain processes, fermentation, distillation, ageing in the solera system etc. have to be adhered to.
  2. Unlike more tropical Caribbean rums, Botran Rums are aged in a cooler, high altitude mountainous region. This means that the rate of evaporation is slower and allows the rum to mellow of a number of years. This gives the rums a different taste profile. This would not be properly feasible (or economic) in hotter rum producing countries.
  3. The Solera ageing system, initially developed in Jerez for Sherry production, is a complex system of fractional ageing. To simplify, if one imagines 3 layers of barrels with the oldest rum in the bottom and the newest rum at the top. The oldest rum is drawn off at the bottom and is continually replaced with new rum from the barrels above, which is in turn topped up from the top layer above that . The top layer of barrels is topped up with youngest rums. This is a very simplified idea of the Botran Solera process. There are different off-shoots of the solera and re-blending of the rum along the way.
  4. Because Rum is continually mixed in the solera, Botran cannot put the age of the rum on their labels. The labels state that the rums are Solera 12 or Solera 18. This is a rough average of the age of the rums in these bottlings. There will be rums older and younger than 12 or 18 year old in the Solera 12 or Solera 18 respectively.
  5. The oak barrels used for ageing Botran Rum in this solera system is a mix of four different types of barrel – fresh and charred ex-Bourbon Whiskey Cask, ex-Sherry casks and ex-Port casks – I think I am right in saying they are the only Rum producer who use four different cask types.
  6. Botran Reserva Blanca is a three year old rum that has the colour filtered out of it using charcoal filters. As it is aged for 3 years in American white oak barrels it has a lot more character, as well as being mellower and smoother than cheap white rums. I think this was the biggest surprise for people who attended the tasting.
  7. Ron Zacapa is also made at the Botran distillery!

Once again, a big thank you to George Phillips and Ian Robinson for a thoroughly enjoyable and informative evening. Roll on the next one.

Williams Chase Rose 2015

We have just taken delivery of the new vintage of Williams Chase Rosé, the 2015. I think this is the third vintage for this rosé wine in the strikingly square-shouldered bottle closed with the glass Vinolok closure. I really like the Vinolok closure I am not sure why more producers don’t use it for their white and rosé wines that should be drunk young. It was trendy in the 1990s, particularly in Austrian Gruner Veltliner wines, but I don’t know of any other producers, other than Chase, using Vinolok at the moment. There must be some!

Each vintage of Williams Chases Rosé has been a bit different from the previous, and the 2015 is no exception, this is in part due to a change in the INAO (Institut National des Appellations d’Origine) Appellation rules for Luberon Appellation d’origine controlee (AOC) and Appellation d’origine protégée (AOP). In March 2014 the INAO rules were updated to allow Luberon Rosé to be made with up to 20% wine from white grapes, something that their neighbours in Cotes de Provence are allowed to do to. Therefore Luberon Rosé can be made from the red grape varieties Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault and Carignan with up to 20% comprised of white grape varieties Ugni Blanc, Clairette, Grenache Blanc, Vermentino, Bourboulenc, Marsanne and Roussanne.

Williams Chase Rose 2015

Williams Chase Rose 2015

Williams Chase Rose 2015 is made from a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault and, now, Vermentino. The wine is made at the family’s property Chateau Constantin just north of Aix-en-Provence. It is aged on its lees with regularly lees stirring which lends a certain creaminess and complexity to the wine. The addition of vermentino certainly lightens the wine, in fact this is one of the palest rosé wines I have come across. There is a picture of a bottle of the 2014 vintage next to the 2015 vintage for comparison below (2014 on left, 2015 on the right). For me the the vermentino brings lots more peach and apricot character to the wine which wasn’t in the previous vintages. I do wonder about the colour being a little light. A lot of consumers perceive the palest rosé wines as being the most austere and dry, which is not the case here.

Tasting Notes

Williams Chase Rose 2015 is a very pale, delicate clam shell pink with just a hints of orange colour. The nose aromatic with white peach and apricot being the most dominant aromas. However, delve a little deeper and there are ripe red berry fruit (strawberry), floral and blossom notes. There are also hints of herbaceousness and a touch of wet stone minerality. The palate is clean and pure with a good viscous mouthfeel. There are flavours of more ripe, red berry fruits, floral character, red apples and a hint of grapefruit zest. As the wine warms up the palate became more expansive and with developing creamy flavours from the lees ageing. The finish is dry, but not bone dry, there is a touch of natural sweetness. Very good, clean and refreshing rosé. Don’t serve too cold! Perhaps take it out of the refrigerator 20 minutes or so before drinking, you will find the wine so much better for it. 29/04/16


Caermory Single Malt Scotch Whisky

As I am sure all whisky aficionados know, there is only one Scotch Whisky distillery located on Isle of Mull and that is Tobermory. The distillery was established in 1798 and is one of the oldest commercial whisky distilleries in the world. They make two different brands of whisky, Tobermory and a peated whisky called Ledaig. Why I am telling you this? Well, put simply, Caermory Whisky is a third part bottling of Tobermory, with a rather interesting origin.

Caermory Whisky is the only whisky made under a Business Expansion Scheme (BES), namely The Tobermory Malt Scotch Whisky BES – The Spirit of 1992 PLC. This BES, like many others offered at the time, offered investors full marginal tax relief on their investment provided the money was kept in the company for five years. Business Expansion Scheme expansions schemes were scrapped by the Chancellor the following year and replaced with the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) in 1994. At the time, this must have been a very good deal, a great chance to invest in a tax-free dram. Under this BES, The Spirit of 1992 Plc. produced some 150,000 litres of spirit, the company was eventually wound up and the investors made a handsome tax free profit. However some of the whisky was acquired by private individuals, with the aim of releasing it at a much later date, one of whom, Derek Hewson, created Caermory Whisky.

Caermory 21 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky

The goal of this small whisky company is to release a series of very limited, single cask bottlings of this rare Isle of Mull whisky and to showcase what the very best whisky from the Isle of Mull can be like. There are plans, amongst other things for a 25 year old bottling. The BES batch of whisky was distilled in 1992 and has been quietly maturing in ex-Bourbon American oak barrels since then. The current release, the Caermory 21 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky is from cask #238. This bottling is bottled at a cask strength of 48.2% abv. It takes its name from the old Welsh for stronghold, fortress or citadel and the ending of Tobermory. No such place exists, but it sounds pretty good!

Available at Fareham Wine Cellar.

Caermory 21 Year Old Tasting Notes

Good, clear, light golden colour. The nose has good fruity and woody aromas. There are hints of lifted lemon / citrus, some floral (perhaps geranium) and minty notes. There is also a touch of green apple aroma. Alongside these fresher aromas there are also some creamy, vanilla notes with a hint of milk chocolate. There is also a note that reminds me of new rope or cereal (bran or malt). The palate is viscous with a good mouthfeel. It is fruity with baked fruit and slightly nutty flavours. It has a sweet attack and is very soft and smooth with spicy, clove flavours. The finish is clean and pure with a touch of sweetness, a final flourish of grassy notes and a good length. A drop of water reveals more fruity, baked fruit aromas, peach, orange and leathery notes. This is a very clean and pure, rich whisky with good mature character but with very elegant freshness. Very good value for money for a 21 year old from the Isle of Mull.

Read more about the Caermory Whisky story at their website.

Taylors 1966 Single Harvest Port

Taylors 1966 Very Old Single Harvest Port is the third release in a series of limited edition Tawny Ports released by Taylors when they are 50 years old.

Taylor’s Port is arguably one of the most famous Port Houses and they have one of the largest holdings of very old cask aged Ports in the Douro. A lot of these old Ports are single vintage Ports aged in seasoned oak casks, i.e single vintage Tawny Ports or Colheita. Taylor’s first started releasing some of these older Tawny Port at 50 years old in 2014 with the 1964 Vintage.

This year, 2016, Taylor’s have released the Taylors 1966 Very Old Single Harvest Port. This limited edition will make a superb 50th birthday or 50th anniversary present in 2016. The great thing about this Port is that for a 50 year old beverage that is still going to be okay to drink (most wines at this age have had it) it is very good value for money. Compare this with the price of a 50 year old whisky, you will be surprised.

Available at Fareham Wine Cellar.

Taylors 1966 Very Old Single Harvest Port

Taylors 1966 Very Old Single Harvest Port Limited Edition

This 50 year old Port is made from grapes harvested and vinified in 1966 and since then the Port has spent many years quietly aging away in oak casks in the Taylor’s cellars at Vilanova de Gaia. It is this prolonged period of oak ageing that gives this Port its characteristic amber / tawny colour, smooth palate, complex, mellow flavours, rich aromas of dried fruits, nutty character and caramel nuances. This Port was only bottled recently (most likely in late 2015 / early 2016) and not need decanting (it was filtered at bottling). It is absolutely ready to drink now. Each bottle is presented in a classic frosted Taylor’s Port bottle, in a high quality beech wood box and there are only a very limited number of bottles available worldwide.

Taylor’s Managing Director, Adrian Bridge, comments “A 50th birthday or anniversary is a landmark occasion. Taylor’s Single Harvest Ports offer a unique opportunity to celebrate with an extraordinary 50 year old wine in perfect condition.”

Tasting Notes from Taylor’s website,

“Medium golden mahogany, with a hint of olive green on the meniscus. The nose is complex with aromas of walnut, macadamia, brown sugar and a warm spicy background of molasses and caramel. The palate is smooth and honeyed, with rich spice, figs, mocha and confit apricot. The acidity is marked and the finish long with beautiful balance.”

96 Points – Wine Spectator
95 Points – Wine & Spirits
95 Points – Wine Enthusiast
94 Points – Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate

Conker Gin, Dorset’s First Gin

Dorset’s First Gin! Conker Gin, or Conker Spirit Dorset Dry Gin, to give it its full name, is distilled and bottled at the Conker Spirit Distillery, which is located in an old Victorian laundry, in Southbourne, Bournemouth and lays claim to being Dorset’s first gin.

The company was founded in 2014 by self-proclaimed Head Conkerer Rupert Holloway. Rupert had grown weary of his 9 to 5 job working as a chartered surveyor in Southampton and had also come to the conclusion that there was never any decent gin to drink in local pubs or eateries. He also noticed that, whilst Dorset has plenty of local beers, wines and other Dorset specialities, there was a Dorset Gin -shaped gap in the market. Rupert is a self-taught distiller and, after 6 months research, blending different botanicals and testing (drinking!) he finally came up with the final recipe that make Conker Gin a unique Dorset Dry Gin.

This is a truly hand-crafted, small batch gin made in batches of only 60 bottles at a time. The base spirit for the gin is made from British wheat and this is then re-distilled in the presence of the botanicals in a small, 30 litre, Portuguese-made, copper Alembic pot still. It is of course the type of base spirit and the blend of botanicals that combine to produce the unique character of any gin.

Conker Gin

Conker Gin Bottles

Conker Gin is now available at Fareham Wine Cellar.

Conker gin is based on a classic dry gin recipe and is made from 10 botanicals. There are some botanicals that are fairly standard to most gins including juniper (a requirement for it to be a gin), seville orange peel, angelica root and coriander seed. Some of the other botanicals are a little bit more unusual and include dried elderberries, lime peel, dried marsh samphire and gorse flowers. The gorse flowers are very much a local product. The bright yellow gorse flowers are foraged from The New Forest in March and April and then dried. When fresh gorse flowers have a coconut character but when dried they have chamomile, sweet nectar character which they bring to the gin.

After re-distillation with the botanicals, the gin is left to sit for 2 weeks, this period allows the gin to mellow, something that not gin goes through, prior to the addition of natural New Forest Spring water to bring the ABV down to 40% for bottling. All of this, bottling and labelling included, is done by hand.

The packaging is very smart and I don’t think I have seen the bottle shape before. The labelling is very clear and the copper-coloured screw top cleverly reminds one of the copper colours of the traditional Alembic stills whilst the yellow bottom label must almost definitely be “gorse yellow”. It took me a little while for me to realise that the “C” of Conker Gin is a conker in string too. Brilliant branding ideas.

Conker Gin Tasting Notes

A clear, colourless gin. The nose is very fragrant and perfumed. There are aromas of pine and juniper with definite citrus / lime notes. There are also floral and spicy, peppery hints. On the palate I detect orange flavours, more lime, blossom, honeysuckle, some savoury character (coriander) and nutty, woody notes which lead to the medium-length, dry finish.

This is a bright, smooth and refreshing gin that would be great to drink neat or over ice. If served in a gin and tonic I would most definitely garnish with a sprig of fresh gorse flowers. Of course, if your local supermarket doesn’t have any gorse flower then my second choice would be lime zest! I think this will complement the lime notes in the gin very well.

Whilst looking for information about Conker Gin, I also found this fantastic looking Cool Camomile and Conker Gin Cocktail at the Dorset Tea Website. There is also more information at the Conker Spirit website.

Moldovan Wine Tasting

@ Lysses House Hotel, 4th February 2015

My colleague, Daria Kenefeck, has been running wine education classes Moldovan Wine Tastingin the Fareham area for over 20 years. The classes are currently held at Lysses House Hotel and run three times a year, roughly equating to school term times. In 2015 one of Daria’s long-standing class members, Malcolm Swire, visited Moldova to attend a Moldovan Wine festival (which was cancelled!) and visit some wineries. Malcolm offered to make a presentation to the wine class about Moldovan wine if some Moldovan wine could be sourced in the UK. It turns out that finding Moldovan wine in the UK is no easy feat, but Daria found some. Having never tasted Moldovan wine before, I decided to gate crash the class. Malcolm gave a very informative talk, not just about Moldovan wine but about the country in general with a slide presentation followed by a tasting of 5 wines.

Moldovan Wine – A Little Background

Moldova is a land-locked Eastern European country located bordered by Romania to the west and Ukraine to the north, south and west. Moldova has a long viticultural history (there is evidence of grapes being grown in the region in 2800BC) but grape-growing and wine production really began to flourish under the kingdom of Stephen The Great in the 15th Century. It is one of the poorest countries in Europe but has a higher wine production by volume per capita than any other country in the world (in part due to the fact that many people grow grapes and make wine at home for their own consumption). A report by the World Health Organisation in 2011 also found that the Moldovans are the heaviest drinkers in the world, drinking an equivalent of 18 litres of pure alcohol per person per year (global average 6.1 litres, UK 13.4 litres).

Moldova’s relationship relationship with Russia and the former USSR has always been very important if somewhat fractious. The largest export market for Moldovan wine has always been Russia where the traditional, sweeter style of red wines are popular. Mikhail Gorbachev imposed an anti-alcohol campaign in the 1980s which resulted in many of the vineyards in Moldova being grubbed up. After the break up of the Soviet Union and following Moldovan independence in 1991 the wine industry began to re-awaken and modernise. Russia remained the largest customer export customer for Moldovan wine despite the 2006 Russian ban (eventually lifted) on imports Moldovan and Georgian wine. However, the industry has further been damaged by yet another Russian ban on the import of Moldovan wine imposed in September 2013 due to Moldova announcing plans to sign a draft association treaty with the EU. Both bans have caused considerable damage and serve to underline how important it is for Moldova to develop other new export markets outside of their traditional channels.

There are four wine growing regions of Moldova – Balti in the North, Codru in the centre, Purcari in the South-East and Cahul in the South. They are also known as the Northern, Central, South-Eastern and Southern zones. Of these the Southern is the most important. There are some 140 Moldovan wine companies, employing 250,000 people, with 148,000 hectares of vineyard.

There majority of grape varieties grown in Moldova are French varieties including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling et al. There are also plantings of Rkatsiteli and Saperavi, which I have come across in Georgian wines. Domestic grape varieties are estimated to make up only 16% of vines planted. The most important domestic white grape varieties are Feteasca Alba, which is also grown in Romania, and Feteasca Regala (a Feteasca Alba / Furmint Cross). The two most important domestic red grape varieties are Rara Neagra and Feteasca Neagra.

Perhaps Moldova’s main vinous claim to fame are the Milestii Mici underground galleries. According to the Guiness Book of Records it is the largest wine collection in the world with over 2 million bottles of wine. The galleries stretch for 250km with 120km currently use. As well as Milestii Mici, there are several other very large underground cellars in Moldova including the Cricova wine cellars which have galleries stretching for 70kms through which there is even an annual running race, the Cricova Run.

Chateau Purcari – Moldovan Wine Tasting

Moldovan Wine Tasting 2

The wines we tried on the evening were all from Chateau Purcari. Founded in 1827, the iconic Chateau Purcari is arguably the most famous winery and producer of Moldovan wine. It is located on the Dniester River not far from the Black Sea (in the South-Eastern Zone). In 2003 the winery and vineyards were completely renovated, modernised and 250 hectares of vineyards were planted which are now coming to maturity.

Negru de Purcari, a dry red wine from the Purcari region is made by a few wineries including Chateau Purcari (the fifth wine tasted below). It was originally made from Rara Neagra and found great fame in the 18th Century. Nowadays the blend is normally Cabernet Sauvignon, Saperavi and Rara Neagra.

White Wines

Chateau Purcari Pinot Grigio de Purcari 2014 – 100% Pinot Grigio. I thought this was the most commercial of all the Moldovan wines we tried. Typical Pinot Grigio character with lots of floral, citrus and pear-drop aromas on the nose. The palate had a sweet, confectionery character. A bit too sweet for my taste, although labelled as a “Alb Sec” or dry white. The only wine of the evening to have geographical classification, a Vin cu Indicatie Geografica Stefan Voda.

Chateau Purcari, Alb de Purcari 2012 – A blend of 50% Chardonnnay, 45% Pinot Gris and 5% Pinot Blanc. Barrel-fermented and aged in French oak barrels for 6 months with malolactic fermentation. This was an oaky beast. Good, golden straw colour with very oaky, herbaceous nose. I detected sulphur on both the nose and the palate, to the detriment of everything else. Labelled as a “Vin de Calitate Matur“, a quality mature wine, although no-one could find out whar “matur” meant, i.e. did it represent a minium aging period.

Moldovan Wine Tasting

Red Wines

Chateau Purcari Freedom Blend 2011 – another Vin de Calitate Matur Rosu Sec (dry red) bottled to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Moldovan independence. A rather interesting blend of 5% Bastardo, 45% Saperavi and 50% Rara Neagra aged 1 year in French oak. The three grape varieties representing Romania, Georgia and Moldova. I am quite familiar with Bastardo from the Douro and Saperavi from Georgia. I didn’t really detect any Bastardo character (only 5%, after all) and the Saperavi was quite dominant. This wine had a good bright, clear red colour with a fruity, smoky nose developing coffee and vanilla aromas as it breathed in the glass. The palate was not particularly complex but demonstrated rich fruity flavours (plums), a bit more smoky / earthy character and some more coffee character. Soft, fruity and dry.

Chateau Purcari Rara Neagra de Purcari 2014 – a Vin de Calitate Selectat Rose Sec. 100% Rara Neagra, unoaked. This wine had a good garnet red colour. The nose was reminiscent of sweet, jammy red fruit, particularly strawberries. These aromas follow onto the palate which has more sweet, jammy, confit fruit, damson, plums and a touch of spice. Round and fruity with a touch of sweetness on the finish.

Chateau de Purcari, Negru de Purcari 2010 – 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Saperavi and 10% Rara Neagra aged for 3 years (or 18 to 24 months, depending where one looks) in French oak and bottled as a Vin de Calitate Matur Rezerva. Chateau de Purcari Negru de Purcari has a dense red / black colour. The nose was quite intense with aromas of black fruit, blackberry, blackcurrant, hints of spicy black pepper and slight balsamic notes. The palate was full and complex with a firm tannin backbone and structure. There were more blackberry / cassis flavours on the palate and I detected just a hint of stalkiness. A fine wine, with surprising structure that could almost be mistaken for a Bordeaux. Good length and potential for aging.

Other Moldovan wines to look out for are those made by Cricova, Chateau Vartely, Mezalimpe and Et Cetera (Malcolm had high praise for Et Cetera).

1976 Port

Many people are looking for a 1976 Port to give as a 40th birthday or 40th anniversary present in 2016. Unfortunately 1976 was not a good vintage in the Douro and very little 1976 Port was produced. The winter of 1975/76 was the driest winter on record for the Douro and the Summer of 1976 suffered drought conditions. The grapes suffered terribly, the vines were stressed, the result was a very small harvest and the year was not declared as a vintage. There are some years where one will simply not be able to find any vintage Port.

There were very small quantities of 1976 Single Quinta Port produced. A single Quinta Port is made in exactly the same way as Vintage Port, normally from a Port House’s top property or best vineyards in a year not declared as a vintage. For example, both Graham Quinta dos Malvedos and Fonseca Guimaraens were produced in 1976, but there is precious little of these 40 year old Single Quinta Ports still available and they are very hard to find.

All is not lost though! If you are frantically looking for a 1976 Port, there are still some 1976 Colheita Ports available. A Colheita Port is a Tawny Port from a single vintage that has to be aged for at least 7 years in barrel. These have quite different characteristics from a vintage Port but are superb wines.

We currently have Krohn 1976 Colheita Port, the current batch was bottled in 2015, which has been quietly aging away in barrel for 40 years. This is a gently oxidative process as the Port interacts with both the air and the barrel. This is what helps to produce the nutty, sweet, caramel and dried fruit characters that tawny Ports are famous for.

Krohn 1976 Colheita Port available here.

Krohn Colheita 1976 Port

Krohn 1976 Colheita Port is an elegant Tawny Port from a very hot, dry and small vintage. It has a good mahogany colour. The nose is complex with aromas of candied fruit peels, cherry, red fruit and orange notes combined with nutty, oaky notes. The palate it soft, smooth and silky. There are more complex, nutty characteristics and caramel / mocha flavours. It has an extremely long, sweet finish, balanced by superb acidity. An excellent example of a mature, tawny, 1976 Port. Presented in a wooden gift box.

As an alternative to 1976 Port, there one will also find 40 year old Tawny Port such as the Grahams 40 Year Old Tawny. Please note a 40 year old Tawny Port is a blend of older and younger Tawny Ports with an average age of 40 years old, not from a single vintage. For a brandy drinker, there is also Baron de Lustrac 1976 Vintage Armagnac and Baron de Sigognac 1976 Vintage Armagnac.

What is a Creme Liqueur?

One of the things questions I regularly get asked is ‘what is the difference between Creme Liqueur and a Liqueur?’. Some people get confused thinking that a Creme Liqueur is a Cream Liqueur like Baileys Irish Cream. It isn’t. Not that surprising since the word creme (crème to give it it’s is proper French accent) is the French word for cream, the dairy product. So what are Creme de Fruits, Creme de Noix or Creme Liqueurs.

The first thing to do is to define what a liqueur is. European Law from 1989 states that a liqueur must have a minimum of 15% alcohol and a minimum of 100g of sugar per litre.

Briottet Creme de Cacao Blanc Liqueur
Briottet Creme de Cacao Blanc Liqueur

A liqueur is essentially made made from three components.

  1. A distilled spirit – this could be a neutral grain, fruit, grape or molasses spirit. However, some of the world’s most famous liqueurs use finished spirits such as whisky, cognac, brandy or rum as their base spirit.
  2. A sweetener – generally this can be sugar or a sugar syrup (perhaps fructose or fruit sugar syrup) . Other sweeteners can include honey or sweet wine.
  3. Some sort of flavouring – liqueurs can be flavoured with just about anything. Common flavourings are fruits, nuts, herbs, flowers, roots, bark, beans, cream and spices. The flavouring of a liqueur can be simple, such as just simply blackcurrant fruit for a Creme de Cassis, or the flavourings could be a long list (usually a closely guarded secret) of herbs, flowers, spices etc. For example, Green Chartreuse has 130 ingredients.

A liqueur always has sugar added, which distinguishes it from flavoured spirits such as flavoured vodka, and they are usually bottled at an alcoholic strength of anywhere from 15% (the minimum) to 55% ABV.

To dispel any confusion over a Creme versus a Cream Liqueur, a Cream Liqueur is simply alcohol and sugar flavoured with dairy cream (and other flavourings). Without doubt, Baileys Irish Cream is the most famous of the Cream Liqueurs but there are many others including Amarula from South Africa, all sorts of chocolate and coffee flavoured cream liqueurs, and those that use rum, whisky, tequila et al. for their spirit base.

What is a Creme Liqueur?

Briottet Creme de Cassis de Dijon
Briottet Creme de Cassis de Dijon

A Creme Liqueur has a more specific definition. It is liqueur made with alcohol that is sweetened and then flavoured.

However, a Creme Liqueur must contain at least 250g of sugar per litre, compared to a “normal” liqueur (100g/L) as above. Creme Liqueurs are normally made from fruit or nuts and are therefore known as Creme de Fruits or Creme de Noix.

There are exceptions of course. For example, Creme de Cassis de Dijon is more regulated, limited geographically and must have minimum of 400g of sugar per litre compared to standard Creme de Cassis. Creme de Cassis de Dijon must also contain at least 25% of the Noir de Bourgogne blackcurrant variety.

What does this mean?

Due to the higher sugar concentration Creme Liqueurs tend to be more viscous, more syrupy, heavier and (obviously) sweeter than standard liqueurs. In practice this perhaps means that when you are using them in cocktails or other recipes you may not have to use as much of a Creme Liqueur compared to a normal liqueur. I also recommend using a much smaller amount of the Briottet Creme de Fruit liqueurs when adding them to white or sparkling wines for example in a Kir or Kir Royale.

Glenmorangie Milsean

Glenmorangie Milsean Highland Single Malt Whisky is the latest Glenmorangie Private Edition. It is the creation of Dr Bill Lumsden, Glenmorangie’s Director of Whisky Creation and Distilling, and is inspired by the old jars of sweets and multi-coloured confectionery of traditional sweet shops, that are now such a rare sight on our high streets.

In keeping with 4 out of the last 6 Glenmorangie Private Editions, Glenmorangie Milsean, the seventh Private Edition release, is distinctive due to is unusual wine cask finish. The first Private Edition was released in 2010, and just to recap, the 6 releases have been,

Glenmorangie Sonnalta – extra matured in ex- Pedro Ximenez, dessert Sherry casks.

Glenmorangie Finealta – a recreation of a Glenmorangie from the early 1900s, aged in Oloroso Sherry Casks with a whisper of peat.

Glenmorangie Artein – matured in rare Super Tuscan red wine casks.

Glenmorangie Ealanta – Not a special wine cask finish but matured in virgin oak casks from the Mark Twain Forest.

Glenmorangie Companta – matured in combination of Grand Cru Burgundy casks from the Clos du Tart vineyard and some casks that had previously held a red dessert wine from the Rhone.

Glenmorangie Tusail – the second release not based on wine casks but an artisanal single, hand-crafted using floor-malted Maris Otter barley, a rare type of barley.

Glenmorangie Milsean available to purchase here.

Glenmorangie Milsean, 2016 Private Edition

Glenmorangie Milsean Bottle

Initially the whisky for the Glenmorangie Milsean undergoes a typical maturation in Bourbon casks but then it extra-matured in specially selected ex-wine casks. In this case the casks are ex-red wine casks sourced from the Douro wine-growing region of Portugal. Although the Douro is most famous for its historic sweet Port wines, there is a new wave producers making fantastic red wines. Of course, where the casks come from is a secret, but the best Douro red wines are usually a “field blend” of grapes which include varieties such as Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, Tinta Amarela, Sousao and others. The wines that are produced tend to big and rich, yet elegant, with plenty of fruit and spicy character. So expect dark fruit character and spicy flavours.

However, not content with just using the casks as they are, the casks destined for the Glenmorangie Milsean are shipped to Scotland where there are re-toasted with live flame to enhance the sweeter notes of Glenmorangie. The result is a sumptuous whisky characterised by the sweetness and piquancy of the toasted casks combined with the rich, fruity flavours of the wood finish.

According to Dr Bill Lumsden, “A glass of Glenmorangie Milsean transports me straight to an old-fashioned sweet shop with its sweet and spicy bouquet, with hints of sugar cane, ripe fruits and fudge. Extra-maturing Glenmorangie in heavily toasted red wine casks for the first time, has allowed us to create a whisky recalling a bygone era. I hope its deep tastes of cherries, angelica, candied orange peel and unusual intensity of caramelised fruits, will surprise and delight whisky aficionados and malt connoisseurs.”

And why Glenmorangie Milsean? Milsean is the Scots Gaelic for “sweet things”, which gived a big clue to the style. It is pronounced meel-shawn. Only 5000 cases produced.

Glenmorangie Milsean Tasting Notes from the Glenmorangie website,

Copper beech.

At full strength, perfumed, sweet and spicy with hints of sugar cane, ripe fruits, sherbert lemons and fudge.
With water, more candy sweetness (dolly mixtures, sugared plums and sweet candy), with the over-riding fragrance of sweet, buttery coconut. Sweet lemon and limes, with hints of exotic ripe melons.

A thick buttery, oily texture with a hint of tingling spices and a hint of chilli giving way to a sweet, luscious candy-like flavour followed by a mix of tart plummy fruit, candied orange peel, cherries, angelica and then more fruits such as peaches, nectarines, plums and melons.

Long and spicy, but always with a sweetness in the background, with flavours such as ginger, brown sugar, sweet tobacco and cake mix.

46% ABV
Non chill-filtered.