Master of Wine Liam Steevenson has been working with The Lyme Bay Winery to create the first English sparkling wine for Maison 54. Here he shares his thoughts on English wines, the rising reputation of sparkling wine in particular, and what it took to blend this exciting new addition to the Maison 54 range.
At forty-three years of age, I don’t feel that I have grown up in a wine producing country. I visited them as a child (trips with my parents to Bordeaux and Tuscany) and, of course, as an adult, but the nations were always Italy, France and Spain, not the country of my birth.
Around the table at lunch the other day, I asked my children ‘where does wine come from?’…England was the third nation they mentioned. Somewhere, somehow, things have changed.
Given the rapid rise in reputation of English wine over the last few decades, I have questioned whether we should consider England an old-world country or a new-world one. In the end, and not because of the 46 vineyards recorded in the Domesday Book, I feel our positioning in Europe (even post next March) makes us part of the old-world. However, I would guess that most of the global wine audience would consider wine from England a newer concept than that from Australia, South Africa or North America.
The Journey of English Wines
Personally, I don’t attribute the change in quality and attitude to a climatically warming world. Instead, a period of wise decision making has taken the industry away from hobbyist vineyard owners, working poorly chosen sites with ill-fitting varietals, to one based on soil mapping, thermal imagery and huge viticultural investment. High quality fruit and financial backing has attracted winemaking talent such that now I have no problem in claiming English Wine to be one of the most exciting developments in the international wine scene.
As the Chair of the Independent English Wine Awards (IEWA), I have spent the last two years getting closer to our production than ever before. Perhaps I have matured along the way to become a judge of intrinsic quality, honing an ability to compare one wine with others. On this journey I have found a depth of quality and range of style that in truth I had not realised was there. Not limited to the counties that lip the southern coast, wine is made successfully as far north as Leicester.
International acclaim so far has largely come from our sparkling wines, which benefit from a climate and, frequently, a soil type close to Champagne, and allows England to get closer to France’s most famous sparkling wine region than anyone else globally.
Producers, like their Champenois friends across the water, enjoy the right to celebrate their ownership of land constrained by poor soils and meagre sunlight, in the most delicate and elegant sparkling manner.
The Final Leg of the English Sparkling Journey
Last week, I took up an opportunity to carry out a dosage and disgorgement session at Lyme Bay, a winery that I have come to know as one of the most dependable sources of sparkling wine in the country. Finishing the work done by their coincidently named winemaker ‘Liam’, we went to work blending a wine for the Maison 54 range created by myself and Muriel Chatel for Borough Wines in London.
It was a fascinating process; aromatic vin-clair, incrementally adjusted with varying amounts of sugar, barrel elements and even brandy until we found a recipe that felt right.
Driving home from the winery, having finally made our decisions and bottled it, I was reminded of that feeling that I have had so many times before. Despite true faith in everything you taste along the way, at some point in the winemaking process, you have to stop and put a cork in it.
From there on in, the decision making is left with the customer. Let’s hope that the world keeps falling in love with English sparkling wine and that ‘Maison 54, from Lyme Bay’ continues to make people smile.
Master of Wine Liam Steevenson is a wine consultant, educator and co-curator of Maison 54.
You can buy Maison 54’s English Sparkling Wine from our stores and from our online shop here.
Read another of Liam’s contributions to the Drinking Culture blog here.
We finally got our hands on Suntory’s flagship single malt whisky so we are shouting about it. Not only is Yamazaki the No.1 single malt whisky in Japan, but it is hugely popular across the world. As such, it is often hard to come by, but we are happy to reveal that it is now available via our online store. Get it now, while stocks last!
Why so special?
The Yamazaki® distillery is Japan’s first and oldest malt distillery. It is therefore considered the birthplace of Japanese whisky. The heritage of Yamazaki connects it in a deep and spiritual way to the people of Japan, but it is the surprising, delicate yet profound experience of flavours which distinguish this single malt from all the rest.
As Michael Jackson (not that Michael Jackson) from Whisky Magazine says, “Yamazaki 12 year Old is a pioneering malt in Japan, for which Suntory deserve great credit. In its early days, it was rounded and delicate…now it is more intense, confident and elegant.”
Before we delve more into the tasting notes, let’s take a peek behind the shoji…aka the translucent paper room dividers found in traditional Japanese homes…
Suntory’s founder, Shinjiro Torii, fell in love with traditional Scottish whisky, but the inspiration he felt never clouded his vision for a whisky that was true to his home country. For him, the only way to express the Japanese character was to locate his distillery in Japan. His search went on for years, but he finally found it…
Nestled proudly on the periphery of Kyoto, the chosen region was known at the time as “Minaseno”. Here the Katsura, Uji and Kizu rivers converge, providing a unique misty climate and some of Japan’s softest purest waters. The diversity of this region’s temperature and humidity also creates ideal conditions for cask aging, known as the signature “Suntory Maturation”.
By choosing a terrain and climate completely different to those found in Scotland Shinjiro Torii was ultimately able to create a new and unique kind of whisky.
Although the first Suntory release in 1929 was a major flop, its developments, nearly a century on, have put Japanese whisky firmly on the map. As a true powerhouse, providing world-leading whiskies, Suntory proudly declares Yamazaki as “the pioneer of Japanese whisky”. Let’s look more at this multi-layered malt with its memorable fruit and Mizunara aromas.
The YAMAZAKI Tasting Experience
You first encounter the colour of Yamazaki which is a pure gold; clear and dark with burnished highlights. Next comes the aroma or nose, which is fruit filled and sweetly spiced. You pick up succulent peach, pineapple and grapefruit as well as clove, candied orange, vanilla, not forgetting their signature Mizunara, which is a Japanese oak. The palate starts spicy but becomes creamy and succulent from the coconut, cranberry and butter notes. The finish is long, with sweet ginger and cinnamon lingering pleasantly.
Overall Yamazaki is medium bodied. While it bursts with freshness, it has a complexity that tells the story if its innovative journey. There is little wonder it is so sought after in the 35 countries where it can be found. With a limited amount in stock be sure to order now, for delivery or for click and collect.
Fans of whiskey should check out our upcoming Dingle Masterclass; in Kensal Rise and Turnham Green next Tuesday 6 Nov and Wednesday 7 Nov.
The third annual Great British Cheese Awards is well under-whey and this week, we’ll find out which brie-lliant producers have taken the curd crown. To celebrate, we’ve teamed up with Peter’s Yard and Great British Chefs, to run free cheese tastings in our shops on Sunday 21 October. Drop in from 3pm-6pm to try the winning cheeses, alongside wines and beers chosen to match.
Inspired to host your own cheese and wine party? Read on for our top cheese and wine pairing tips.
Cheese and wine matching
When approaching any kind of food and wine matching, a good starting point is to consider how intensely flavoured the dish you’re trying to match is and then aiming for a wine of equivalent power. For example, a big bruiser like Cabernet Sauvignon would completely overwhelm a delicate cheese like sweet, young Comté, but would get along very nicely indeed with a punchy mature Cheddar.
Similarly, light Pinot Noirs should be sipped with comparably delicate cheeses. The Les Athlètes du Vin Pinot Noir 2017 (£15) would work brilliantly with a Taleggio or Gruyere, as the sweet, nutty cheeses would complement, rather than conceal, the wine’s fine fruit notes.
Texture is another key consideration and – as with flavour – you’re looking for an affinity between the cheese and the wine. Harder cheeses like Parmesan and cheddar work well with more tannic red wines. Red Bordeaux is a classic example and the organic Château la Chapelle Maillard (£14) doesn’t disappoint.
Softer cheeses meanwhile are best with lighter, softer whites. Brie and Champagne is a good example; the fizz is delicate and smooth like the cheese, but its natural high acidity and bubbles also provide a pleasing, palate-cleansing freshness. Try the fruity and delicately floral Lucie & Sébastien Cheurlin Brut Champagne NV (£30) and a soft cow’s milk cheese.
Just as high acid white wines and creamy cheeses work well together because of the contrast between the two, so do salty and sweet flavours. There’s a real affinity between stinky cheese – anything blue, or in that style – and sweet wines. A bit of blue and a chilled glass of the Dom. de Carbonnieu Sauternes Half (£16.50) is a deliciously indulgent way to finish a meal.
For those of you who are lovers of chilli cheese, try that with an off dry rose and you won’t be disappointed!
If in doubt, look local – pair a cheese with a wine from the same region and more often than not, the two will be brilliant together. A great example is matching a fresh-tasting Loire goat’s cheese with one of the region’s excellent examples of Sauvignon Blanc, like the Le Bois Aux Biches Sauvignon Blanc (£9).
Master of Wine Liam Steevenson has spent two years exploring India’s emerging wine industry. Here he reports on the region’s growing thirst for wine and the producers crafting high quality cuvées from its own vineyards.
It doesn’t matter how many books you have read, films you have watched, or accounts you have listened to – a visit to India is one of the most personal experiences that a person can have.
India’s reputation for colour is much more than simply visual; it assaults every sense. As something of an experience obsessive, it comes as no surprise that India has drawn me back, time and time again.
A growing thirst for wine
With its rapidly growing middle class – and a younger generation that is turning away from the darker spirits their parents enjoyed – India is a market that the wine world is watching closely.
Taxation and a statute of law built around prohibition, mean that wine imports are curtailed in India, but only in the short term. This is a market with a fascinating future and – within a shrinking global market – one that every producing county should be paying close attention to.
In the meantime, this enforced limit on imported goods has created an opportunity for local growers – India is producing wine and producing it well.
Winemaking in India
The vineyards of India are centred around the town of Nashik, close to Mumbai. There are producers elsewhere, but this is is where the volume is, and arguably the quality too.
Climatically it is tricky; the region is by definition too hot, humid and most importantly non-seasonal. This semi-tropical condition allows for no winter dormancy in the vine and harvest happens twice a year, though – swamped by monsoon – the summer harvest yields no wine.
Financially well-resourced, the cellars are impressive. Modern equipment fills the best wineries and every technical advancement is employed to temper grapes that come from vineyards wild and warm.
The vineyards are undoubtably where difficulties lie; plant viruses are rife and the heat of the sun ripens grape sugars faster than it can phenolics. Despite these key issues, the end result can be good and in some cases – really good.
Sparkling wine is where India has built its best reputation for quality, helped by Moet et Chandon, who invested heavily in the region a decade ago and now make world class fizz under the Chandon label.
Watching all of this closely was YORK Winery, who – in my opinion – now make the best sparkling wine in India, and at a quality that I would happily buy from anywhere in the world.
We are delighted to have sourced a parcel of YORK Sparkling Cuvée for Borough Wines & Beers. Produced from Chenin Blanc grown in some of the coolest parts of Nashik, it retains high levels of natural acidity and aromatic complexity. Traditionally fermented, it is honestly world class and a bargain at this price.
Master of Wine Liam Steevenson is a wine consultant and educator.
This weekend we’re celebrating the first anniversary of our Chiswick store, by getting a (rather large!) round in for the locals. Stop by the shop on Turnham Green Terrace after 12pm Friday 17 August – Sunday 19 August and enjoy a glass of ‘Chiswick Twist‘ on us. Party hat optional (but very much encouraged).
The Chiswick Twist
Created with a little help from our W4 neighbours Sipsmith, the cocktail combines the West London distillery’s flagship London Dry Gin, with citrus notes from Pococello, a touch of fiery ginger spice from Pimento and a twist of fresh lime. It’s a spicy, citrus-sy, ginger-y, glass of goodness.
Take a sip while you browse the shelves, or pull up a stool in the bar or downstairs tasting room. There’s no purchase necessary, though there are some standard T&Cs (ie. we might be one year old, but you’ve got to be at least 18!). Scroll down for details.
The ‘Chiswick Twist’ cocktail is available from Friday 17 – Sunday 19 August during shop opening hours. It’s one free cocktail per person, per day, while stocks last. The cocktail must be consumed on the premises. Cocktails will be served to people aged 18 and over only and proof of age may be required.
Borough Wines & Beers
51 Turnham Green Terrace
W4 1RP MAP
It has been twelve (and a bit) months since we opened our Battersea shop and we wanted to say a big THANK YOU to everyone for the local love we have received in that time. So – for the next two weeks, first drinks are on us – it’s free cocktail fortnight.
From today until Friday 29 June, stop by the Battersea Park Road shop for a browse between 6-7pm and you can enjoy a glass of our *exceedingly good* Battersea Bakewell cocktail on the house.
Inspired by the flavours of our favourite dessert, the Battersea Bakewell is made using the East London Liquor Co. London Dry Gin (for our money, the best all-rounder), plus Maraschino and Amaretto for that classic flavour combination.
Sip while you shop or get comfy in the bar area. No purchase necessary, but there are a couple of T&Cs (scroll down for details).
Party hats and presents optional, but very much encouraged.
Borough Wines & Beers Battersea Park (MAP)
513 Battersea Park Road
Phone: 020 7450 7877 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @boroughwines_bp
T&Cs: The ‘Battersea Bakewell’ cocktail is available from Monday 18 June – Friday 29 June, 6-7pm. It’s one free ‘Battersea Bakewell’ cocktail per person, per night while stocks last. The cocktail must be consumed on the premises. Cocktails will be served to people aged 18 and over only and proof of age may be required.
English wine is not new – evidence suggests that it was the Romans who introduced vines to these shores. It is only in the last sixty years however, that the true potential of English wine has been realised, both in terms of quality and value.
Today, English and Welsh wine is a growing concern, with interest and investment in the industry at an all-time high. One million grape vines were planted in the UK in 2017 alone – the largest number planted in a single year.
English Wine production in numbers
According to industry body WineGB, there are 502 commercial vineyards in the UK. Together, these vineyards cover 2000 hectares and in 2016, produced 4.15million bottles of English wine. In 2020, the figure is set to be closer to 10 million.
The producer view – Hugo Corney, Court Garden
Originally a sheep farm – as referenced by the ovine neck label on its Classic Cuvée bottle – Hugo’s parents Howard and Jenny Corney planted the first vineyard on their Sussex farm in 2005 “to hedge against the peaks and troughs of livestock farming”.
Court Garden is now an award-winning wine producer, making both still and sparkling styles from red and white grapes. There are fewer sheep these days, though they can still be found grazing amongst the vines in the winter.
Located just 50 miles south of London and 10 miles north of Brighton, Court Garden is situated in the South Downs National Park. With its sunny aspect, rolling hills and Champagne-like chalky soils, it’s a key English viticulture area.
“Our winery is only 100 metres from the vineyards”, says Hugo, “and this enables us to press the grapes as soon as they are hand-picked and to capture the true flavours and aromas from the Court Garden vineyards.”
As any keen gardener will be aware, the great British weather can play havoc with even the hardiest of perennials. For those in the business of grape growing however, it can spell disaster.
“Our production volumes vary as a result of only using our own grapes and the weather plays a very influential role in determining the yield for the year. Our volumes are on average 25,000-30,000 bottles but have ranged from 2,000-40,000 bottles.”
Sparkling wine accounts for 66% of English wine production, but interest in home-grown still wine is growing. While the former is very much inspired by the techniques and traditions of Champagne, there is no such direct comparison for the latter.
Without a centuries-old formal tradition to guide producers in terms of the techniques and grape varieties best suited to their situation, many have ventured beyond the familiar grape varieties in search of others more suited to our climate. Yes, you will find English grown Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but you’ll also find the improbably-named Madeleine Angevine and Huxelrebe.
Alongside the familiar Champagne varieties grown at Court Garden (Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir), the Germanic (but rather Game of Thrones-sounding) Dornfelder grape has proved very successful and can be found in the estate’s Ditchling Red.
“Both [Pinot Noir and Dornfelder] grow successfully in northern Europe”, says Hugo, “they require less sunshine temperatures than more familiar higher alcohol and higher tannin reds.”
“With low tannins and light alcohol (10-11% ABV), the Dornfelder is ideal served chilled alongside summer alfresco meals.”
What’s next for English wine?
With production predicted to double by 2020 and new wineries opening all the time, is there a risk that English wine production will outstrip demand? Not if the growing interest from external markets continues, reasons Hugo.
“The market will decide on the appetite for more English wine and as knowledge of English wine spreads, as too could demand.”
If English wine’s potential comes down to the quality of the products being made, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic. English wine has long enjoyed critical acclaim and can count numerous high profile awards among its accolades.
“At Court Garden we endeavour to make the highest quality wines we can. The national and international awards we have received to date gives a nice endorsement that we are on the right track.”
We are hugely excited to announce that Ana Goncalves and Zijun Meng from TĀ TĀ EATERYare taking over the kitchens at Borough Wines & Beers Kensal Rise for a three-month residency.
From Thursday 10 May, you’ll be able to enjoy TĀ TĀ EATERY’s excellent modern Asian dishes for dinner (Thurs – Sat) and brunches (Sat – Sun) under the bottle shelves.
UPDATE 22/06 – By popular demand, TĀ TĀ EATERY will now open on Wednesdays too, until the end of the residency. The full hours are – Wednesday – Saturday 6.30pm-10pm, Saturday and Sunday 12pm – 3pm.
TĀ TĀ EATERY
Husband and wife team Meng and Ana met under chef Nuno Mendes and credit a shared love of rice as the catalyst for the creation of TĀ TĀ EATERY.
The name is inspired by the Mandarin words for “he” and “she” and appropriately their menus look both east and west for inspiration, with a nod to the culinary traditions of their native China and Portugal.
Their dishes are typically Modern Asian in style, but incorporating European ingredients and techniques, all cooked with a flair and precision befitting their top-class restaurant training.
The project began as a street food stall on London’s Druid St. Market, before a series of critically-acclaimed pop-ups at the Newman Arms and Kitchen Table, followed by a year-long stint at Haggerston café Curio Cabal.
Kensal Rise, meet the Katsu Sandwich
The izakaya-style menu served at BW Kensal Rise will revolve around small plates and sharing platters.
Dishes will include Meng and Ana’s characteristically playful take on ngiri and tacos, as well as cult-favourite, the Katsu Sandwich – a toast sandwich of deep-fried, slow-cooked Iberico pork neck and Asian slaw.
The handmade Toasted Rice Cream – which has been a popular feature on previous TĀ TĀ menus – will also be on offer, accompanied by changing seasonal toppings of berries and flower blossom.
There will be a changing menu of wines chosen to complement the dishes (available by the glass, carafe and bottle), specially selected craft beers and soft drinks.
Cocktail serves inspired by the food menu will also be available, devised by Geyan Surendran, Distiller in Chief at Surendran and Bownes.
What would be the fun of dining in a wine shop if you couldn’t go a little off-piste though, right? Drink anything off the shelves (or out of the fridge) and just pay the retail price, plus corkage (£8 per bottle for wines and £1 for beer).
The TATA EATERY residency is at Borough Wines & Beers, 30 Station Terrace, Kensal Rise, London, NW10 5RP. Bookings for groups of six or more can be made by email (email@example.com).
You pop in to the shop for a quick Picpoul and – an hour later – you’re still there, sipping something you just had to try and discussing the merits of the Corsican native grape varieties or the most successful wine pairing for Twiglets… Sound familiar? What can we say; we don’t just like to drink the stuff, we like to have a good old natter about it too.
We believe that wine is about sharing and socialising, as much as it is about sipping, and what’s more – that everyone has got something interesting to add to the conversation. That’s the inspiration behind Tête À Tête, our new tasting series, where ideas play (almost) as important a role as imbibing.
The first Tête À Tête event is taking place on Thursday 22 March at The Old Cinema, Chiswick, with Master of Wine Liam Steevenson and celebrated drinks writer and Guardian columnist Fiona Beckett leading the conversation.
The topic up for discussion is ‘Alcohol’; its role in shaping the character of the wine we drink and – with a third of us now claiming to be drinking less than we were 12 months ago – if our attitude to alcohol is changing.
We can’t know the exact format the event will take, as the evening will be shaped by the thoughts and feedback of attendees on the night. We can make one guarantee though – there will be lots to sip and plenty to say.
Join the conversation – tickets are just £10 and available to buy online here and in the Borough Wine & Beers shops.
Thank you Nicholas Hughes for the wonderful Tête À Têteillustrations. See more of his work here.
There’s much more to Australia’s Barossa Valley than big name wineries, hefty reds and heftier price tags. Don’t believe us? You can go Whistler.
Winemaker Josh Pfeiffer is Barossa born-and-raised; he grew up surrounded by vines, as son and grandson of grape-growers for the aforementioned big-name estates. On graduating university (oenology), he honed his craft in wineries across the region and in neighbouring Eden Valley, before setting his sights on the family patch and establishing Whistler.
Given his pedigree, it is unsurprising that Pfeiffer seems so at ease making wines in this landscape; what is more surprising is the style of the wines he is choosing to make. Characterised by a lightness of touch and playfulness, his wines are elegant, experimental and eminently drinkable.
The Whistler wines are also natural, that is – made following a philosophy of minimal intervention, with restrained use of sulphites and no additives or enhancers to affect texture or flavour.
Working organically since 2013 and biodynamically since 2017, you could say that the Whistler wines are as true an expression of Barossa as the man behind them.
We were introduced to Whistler by our Essex Road shop manager (and fellow Adelaide native) Jeremy and after an overwhelming response in the subsequent team tasting, made it our mission to bring the bottles to the UK.
To celebrate them finally landing on the shelves (and just in time for Australia Day too!), Jeremy got back in touch with Josh to find out a little more about Whistler, his wine making style and the joys of joining the family business.
Where is your winery based and how does the landscape and conditions there affect grape growth and wine production?
Whistler is situated at 241 Seppeltsfield Road, Stone Well, which is on the western edge of the Barossa Valley floor. As you drive towards Whistler, you step up out of the Valley floor and into the Western Ridge of the Barossa. Our soils are a lot more complex and shallow than the valley floor, and as a result, we get more complex flavours within a block of vines, and lighter canopies, which means lower disease pressure. This makes our site ideal for Organic and Biodynamic practices.
What makes Barossa Valley wines special?
The Barossa is a ideal environment for growing grapes- our climate and soils are well suited to grape growing, and the resulting wines are generally high quality.
Do you find that people have preconceptions about Barossa Valley wines?
Some people who have tried a lot of wine from Australia or the Barossa Valley generally have a picture in their head of what our wines might look like, and they are generally surprised how light and easy-drinking our wines are compared to other wines that they have tried.
Do you consider yourself part of the ‘New Wave’ of Australian wines?
I guess so; particularly the New Wave of Barossa wines. The Barossa is made up of some pretty big players in the Australian wine industry, it has only really been in the last 5 years or so that smaller producers have started pushing the boundaries with Barossa wines.
What drove you to become a winemaker?
I grew up living on a 700 acre Penfolds vineyard, as my father, Martin Pfeiffer, managed Penfolds company vineyards around Australia for 28 years before starting up Whistler in 1999. I am the fourth generation in my family to grow grapes, but the first in my family to make wine. Dad usually had us out in the vineyards working during our school holidays, so I never really enjoyed the wine side of things until I hit my late 20’s and started understanding the importance of getting it right in the vineyard. I decided to study wine making at University as a way of being involved in the wine industry, but not working in a vineyard initially.
Where do you stand on the debate of sulphites in wine?
I use sulphur as a preservative in all of my wines apart from one, our new 2017 ‘Back To Basics’ Orange Wine. I generally only add a small amount of sulphur – just after fermentation has finished, to preserve the wine through the bottling process. I think it’s best to make a sound wine and if that means adding a bit of sulphur, I’m all for it. Having said that, it is exciting to see how clean and fruit-driven our new ‘Back To Basics’ is, even though I didn’t add a single thing to the wine. No yeast, no acid, no sulphur, no anything.
What has been the most challenging thing about moving to Organic/Biodynamic Viticulture?
To be completely honest, it has been a very easy transition for us due to our site. It definitely forces you to spend more time in the vineyard, which can only be a good thing. It does cost more to produce the same amount of wine, as you are spending a lot more time on the tractor, or pulling out weeds by hand.
Natural wines, are they just a fad or are they here to stay?
I think they are going to be increasing in popularity over the next decade or so, and they will only continue to get better, as winemakers learn how to manage wines without adding a whole heap of different chemicals. Who knows if they are here to stay… Most things go in cycles.
Tangy, tasty and alcohol-free, kombucha has been a fixture on the US drinks scene for years, but remained relatively unknown here – the reserve of health shops and home-brewers. With top bars now using it in cocktails and excellent, ready-to-drink examples popping up in bottle shops (like ours), it looks like that could be about to change. Is 2018 the year the UK finally falls for fermented tea?
Deliciously dry and complex, without the sugar-crash that comes after drinking many soft drinks, kombucha is a solidly grown-up sip, and one of our recommendations for Dry January. As one of the fermented drinks we’re a little less au fait with here at BW, we called on the expertise of Real Kombucha founder and Master Brewer, David Begg to tell us more about it – how it’s made and what makes it so special.
Join David at one of our upcoming Introduction to Kombucha events where you’ll find out more and enjoy a tasting of the Real Kombucha range, alongside a specially-designed matching veggie menu.
Over to you David…
The ‘booch basics
Kombucha is a yeast and bacterial fermentation of sweet tea. The yeast consumes most of the initial sugars and converts them to alcohol, and the bacteria consumes the alcohol to create beneficial acids. Unlike vinegar, however, the acids produced are soft and delicate and just give a subtle bite and fizz.
It’s actually really easy to make kombucha, and a whole lot of fun, but be careful as it can become a serious obsession (with a little bit of an addictive personality thrown in). All you need is a pot and a SCOBY.
SCOBY stands for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast. It’s the culture used to ferment the tea and looks a bit like a round, flat piece of calamari. It is actually the cellulose that the bacteria create as an environment to live in; a bug hotel, so to speak.
Brew your favourite sweet tea, cool it to room temperature and drop in the culture. That’s all it takes.
It’s always hard trying to describe a flavour. Most would liken kombucha to a slightly tart, delicate apple or pear cider, though it depends enormously on the tea you use.
For our Royal Flush we use a first flush Darjeeling tea which produces a kombucha with delicate sharpness over notes of gooseberry, rhubarb and peach. Pick up a bottle of our Smoke House though, and you will think you are drinking a light, smoky apple cider.
‘Booch health benefits
Most naturally sweetened soft drinks are between 7-12% sugar. That means that if you consume a 330ml bottle of the stuff, you are consuming up to 40g of sugar. The WHO currently suggests a maximum daily added sugar consumption of 24g, and they would like you to reduce this to 12g, so you would be consuming almost double the WHO recommendation in one bottle.
Real Kombucha has under 2g of sugar per 100ml, so only 6-7g per bottle. That is less than 50 calories compared to up to 300 for a single bottle of a soft drink. Your alternative is the artificial sweeteners that we are all getting rather concerned about. But even Real Kombucha is still 6g of sugar, so I would always advocate drinking more water than booch (although some of us are a little addicted – send help!)
While we are far more passionate about the flavour of kombucha than the health benefits, the magic booch also packs a bunch of other elements. It is a raw product with plenty of healthy probiotic bacteria. It also contains all the catechins and polyphenols that you find in a normal cup of tea, with their great antioxidant properties, and the acids produced in the fermentation are a great way to get the system going. We are learning a lot more about the benefits of fermented foods and I am sure we are going to be quite surprised by what we find.
We currently produce three flavours, each one differentiated by the type of tea we use. We don’t see the point in flavouring kombucha when it can taste so good to begin with.
Dry Dragon – the delicate one
Dry Dragon(33cl, £2.50) is made from the pan-roasted Dragonwell green tea from China. Unlike Japanese green teas – which are steamed – Chinese green teas are roasted in a big wok, giving them flavours of hay rather than mown grass. This leads to a far more delicate flavour in a kombucha, with the fermentation also adding flavours of grapefruit and lemon.
I drink Dry Dragon every morning with eggs straight from our chickens. It is a great way to start the day, and it’s an easy drink for whenever you need a refreshment – particularly on a warm summer day.
Royal Flush – the aperitif
Royal Flush(33cl, £2.50) is brewed from first flush Darjeeling, which is known locally as the ‘Queen of Teas’. The first flush is picked by hand as the first tips of the plant emerge in the spring, leading to a richly fragrant tea. When brewed, it produces a kombucha that is fresh and floral with notes of rhubarb, gooseberry and vanilla but with subtle, astringent undertones. People often compare this drink to a kind of non-alcoholic Prosecco.
Royal Flush is the easiest to drink before or with food. It is really fantastic as an aperitif and works a treat anywhere you would otherwise drink Champagne, Prosecco or a white wine.
Smoke House – the beer-y one
Smoke House(33cl, £2.50) is much more robust. It is brewed from a high-grown black tea from the southwestern districts of the Yunnan province in Southern China. A brew with a warm, golden colour and a rich, smoky flavour, with apple and caramel undertones. On first sip, most would believe that Smoke House is a cider, albeit one with a more delicate, smoky twist.
At the end of a busy day at the brewhouse there is nothing like grabbing a cold Smoke House (or three) from the fridge and sharing them with the team.
One of the great things about Real Kombucha is that it doesn’t come mixed with other flavourings, so you are free to mix and blend as you see fit. A Dry Dragon Mojito is fantastic, or you could mix a little cassis into a Royal Flush and you make a superb Kir Royal.
My favourite has to be a cocktail mixed by Yann at The Pig Hotel near Bath, called the Gardener’s Mistress:
Take a tall tumbler, crush a little fresh ginger in the bottom.
Add a small measure of fresh basil oil, followed by crushed ice.
Fill to the brim with Real Kombucha Smoke House.
Then top with some bruised mint and a twist of black pepper.You really have to try it to believe the subtle complexities of the flavours.
We keep a lot of kombucha cocktails on our blog, and we add to the list whenever someone sends us something interesting.
Drinking kombucha with food
I am a bit of a flavour obsessive and I am constantly experimenting with kombucha food pairings. Over the New Year, a really foodie Italian friend of mine dispensed with the Sauternes and grabbed a bottle of Royal Flush to drink alongside his foie gras. Wow! What a success.
We have been selected by some of the greatest chefs, sommeliers and restaurateurs exactly for this reason. Anything sweet, fruity or too bold in flavour overwhelms most foods, so restaurateurs have always struggled to find a soft drink that can pair as well with food as wine. As Real Kombucha is a simple fermentation with no flavouring – just like a wine or beer – it does the same job.
I would always suggest pairing Dry Dragon with fresh salads and alongside fruit, especially citrus and more acidic fruits. It is also great with lighter Asian foods.
Royal Flush is particularly good with white meats, fish and cream sauces. It also pairs well with subtle pasta dishes and it’s a great aperitif with smoked salmon, or charcuterie.
Smoke House is great with beef or other robust meats. It’s a perfect replacement for beer with a good British curry and works well alongside other spicy food too.
Much to my disappointment, we haven’t yet found a good combination with cheese. Pairing kombucha and cheese pretty much destroys both, so my advice is to steer well clear!
Real Kombucha is available now in the Borough Wines shops and online. David Begg will host two ‘Introduction to Kombucha’ events at our Essex Road (N1) shop on Wednesday 24 January 2018 and in Kensal Rise (NW10) on Thursday 25 January 2018. Tickets (£25) include a masterclass, demo, guided tasting and three course veggie food matching menu. Book here.
Christmas with my family oop north and then New Year’s Eve in Cornwall.
What’s your ideal Christmas Dinner?
For me, Christmas Dinner is but a warm-up act to the most important dish of the year – the Boxing Day mega sandwich. What I want to see on the table on the 25th is based entirely on what I want to eat between two slices of bread the next day – turkey, cold roast potatoes, stuffing, sausages, sprouts, root veg, sour pickles and cranberry sauce.
What’s your favourite Christmas drink?
Snowballs! Dry Sherry! Lambrusco! I have very 70s tastes…
Any cocktail or drinks/food pairing tips?
It will be La Battagliola, Lambrusco “Dosage 15” for the Christmas Eve buffet – it’s a dream with charcuterie and nibbles, is frothy, fizzy and red (aka Christmas in a glass) and comes with the requisite whiff of retro nostalgia.
On Christmas Day, I’ll probably try and convince everyone that Black Velvets are a good idea and we’l relive the unfornate Egg Nog episode of Christmas ’16. Once everyone has had a sit down, it will be some serious Pinot Noir for the main event, perhaps the Maison Chanzy Maranges Rouge 2015.
Calvados is a Christmas cracker that has fallen out of favour somewhat in recent years.
A perfect present, delicious after-dinner drink and cracking cocktail addition (not to mention an all-important ingredient in Aunt Alice’s Christmas puddings), yet often overlooked in favour of fancier French liqueurs. Enough is enough, we argue that Calvados’ time has come; read on – it’s Calvados 101…
What is Calvados?
Calvados is an apple brandy made exclusively in Normandy. There are two main names to remember – AOC Calvados and AOC Calvados Pays d’Auge . The former encompasses the largest area of Normandy and accounts for 70% of the total Calvados production. The latter produces on a smaller scale and has much stricter production rules (double distillation is a minimum requirement) resulting in a higher quality spirit.
How is it made?
Calvados can be made from over 200 apple varieties. Once the chosen apples have been picked, they are pressed for their juices, which are then fermented into cider using native yeasts. Once this fermentation is complete, the cider is distilled using an alembic pot-still. At this stage it earns the name “eau de vie”, is tasted by the distiller and selected for aging.
Calvados is aged for a minimum of two years in either virgin or used Calvados oak barrels. Top tier Calvados usually ages for around 25+ years.
Like other blended spirits, the number stated on the bottle is the youngest age of the spirit involved, though distillers often add amounts of much older Calvados to achieve desired textures and flavours.
As Calvados ages the flavours deepen and develop. Over time, the fresh apple notes become cooked, spicy and more unctuous, while the mouthfeel becomes more luxuriant.
How do I drink Calvados?
Younger Calvados blends are perfect for cocktails; our favourite is the Pomme Pomme – a simple mix of Calvados, with a dash of bitters, topped off with champagne.
Older Calvados deserves to be drunk neat and is best served in a stemmed tulip glass at room temperature. This will enhance the aromas emanating from the glass. If you don’t have any tulip glasses handy, a port glass will suffice.
Calavdos also makes a delicious after-dinner tipple. Try pairing it with a chunk or two of rich dark chocolate, a good book and a comfortable chair.
Whether you’ve still got presents to buy,or you’re just stocking up ahead of a few days elective hibernation, don’t get caught out – read on for our special festive opening hours and Christmas ordering information.
If you would like to order online and pick-up in store, TODAY (Tuesday 19 December) is the last day to do so. Choose ‘Click & Collect’ when you check out and please allow 48 hours for your order to arrive in store (though we’ll let you know if it comes in sooner).
TOMORROW (Wednesday 20 December) is the last online order date for nationwide Christmas delivery. If you’re stocking up for New Year’s Eve, you’ll need to order before Wednesday 27 December.
Christmas Opening Hours
Borough Market, SE1
Tuesday 19 December -10am – 5pm
Wednesday 20 December -10am – 8pm
Thursday 21 December – 8am – 8pm
Friday 22 December – 8am – 6pm
Saturday 23 December – 8am – 5pm
Sunday 24 December – 10am – 4pm
Christmas Day & Boxing Day – CLOSED
Wednesday 27 December – 9am – 6pm
Thursday 28 December & Friday 29 December –10am – 6pm
Saturday 30 December – 8am – 6pm
Sunday 31 December – 10am – 4pm
Monday 1 January – Tuesday 2 January – CLOSED
Open as normal from Wednesday 3 January
Stoke Newington, N16
Open as normal until Saturday 23 December
Sunday 24 December – 10am – 4pm
Christmas Day & Boxing Day – CLOSED
Wednesday 27 December – 10am – 9pm
Thursday 28 December – Saturday 30 December – 10am – 10pm
Sunday 31 December – 10am – 8.30pm
Monday 1 January – CLOSED
Open as normal from Tuesday 2 January
Open as normal until Saturday 23 December
Sunday 24 December – 10am – 4pm
Christmas Day & Boxing Day – CLOSED
Wednesday 27 December – 1pm – 9pm
Thursday 28 December & Friday 29 December – 1pm – 10pm
When we heard that our former Borough Market neighbour Nancy Mahon was no longer selling her handmade Aunt Alice’s Christmas Puddings to the public, we worried about the future of our favourite figgy pudding and therefore – Christmas itself.
Thankfully, we persuaded Nancy to bake us a batch exclusively for Borough Wines customers. So this year, you’ll find us peddling puddings as part of our Christmas selection, alongside our cases, festive bubbles and other gifts.
‘Why give a fig?’ I hear you cry! Well this is no ordinary pudding. Fantastically delicious, surprisingly light and boasting some famous – nay, regal – fans, it’s a pudding worth pondering.
We sat down with Nancy to do just that and to give it an official taste test.
How long have you been making Christmas puddings?
Since 1998, on and off. The recipe is much older though – it was first made by my Great Aunt Alice in the 1930s. Her father was a member of the royal court, so eventually the pudding reached King Edward V, who was supposedly a big fan!
Alice was good at figuring out the ratios of ingredients. For example, she worked out how to use as little flour and eggs as possible – as this can make it stodgy – and more of the fruits and nuts.
Aside from its royal history, what makes this pudding so special?
The main thing is the almond content; we use a large amount of ground almonds instead of flour, which makes the pudding much lighter. Also, there is a very large fruit to pudding ratio – in a 10lb pudding, 6lbs of that is fruit. Of course, the fruits available to me now are far superior to those from 100 years ago.
Additionally I use the best spirits that I can find, something specified by Aunt Alice herself.
The puddings are also steamed for 9-12 hours before they are even packaged up. When they are steamed for a further 2 hours before eating, all the fruit bursts, adding so much flavour.
What is your baking process?
Well, it’s a rigid but relaxed approach if that makes sense. All 22 ingredients are weighed precisely. The cherries are then soaked in cognac, the apples in calvados, and the blueberries in rum, to bring out a range of different flavours that blend together beautifully. All the fruits are then mixed together, before adding the binding ingredients.
Over the years I’ve tried a number of different ways of putting it all together, but this one always came out on top.
I am charge of every pudding. I have help in the kitchen, but nothing gets past me. If there is a problem, I know about it and I fix it. That’s what you get with cottage cooking, I much prefer it to the factory system.
When did you first start selling the puddings?
I initially started selling puddings at Borough Market in 1999 with my company Pudding Lane. I was one of the original traders.
It was a family member who suggested that I start selling Aunt Alice’s pudding, and it quickly became popular and seemingly famous! People started saying they were at the Aunt Alice stand, so I decided to change the name and the rest is history.
Why did you decide to start selling through Borough Wines?
Well, the main reason is simply because I’m such good friends with Muriel [Founder of Borough Wines]. We were neighbours on the market, and every time I’ve seen her she always says how much she loves the pudding! We bumped into each other not that long ago and she finally convinced me. It’s also such a good fit with everything else that Borough Wines has on offer, especially at Christmas.
Any tips for people attempting to make their own puddings?
Don’t! If you do go for it, you’ve really got to put your whole self into it, you’ve got to love it. The trouble with making Christmas pudding is that it steams the whole house out for a day, who wants that?
Will you ever reveal your recipe?
I’m sure a few people who have worked with me know it. My children know it, my son sometimes helps me, but he’s living in Spain now. There have been offers of people wanting to buy the business, and I’d maybe consider that later down the line, because it really is such hard work.
Aunt Alice’s Christmas Pudding is available now in the Borough Wines shops and online, in 0.5 pint and 1.5 pint versions, priced at £9 and £23 respectively.
It’s a classic on the Christmas table, but how much do you know about Sherry? Read on to find out more about how Sherry is made, the different Sherry styles and why the sweet stuff is only half the story.
For the chance to win a Magnum of Delgado Zuleta Manzanilla En Rama Sherry, just share a link to this post on Twitter or Facebook, tagging the person you’d share it with and @boroughwines (so we can see it!).
Sherry – no mere trifle
Unfashionable and unfairly-maligned, Sherry has a bit of an image problem in the UK. Park your preconceptions though, and you’ll find that the wines from Jerez have a lot to give – more diverse, delicious and often drier than you might expect.
Unconvinced? Our Website Manager and self-confessed Fino fanatic David Hefford addresses some of the myths and misconceptions surrounding Sherry…
To many, the word ‘Sherry’ will conjure up images of boozy puddings and a sticky brown bottle excavated once-yearly from the drinks cabinet on Christmas afternoon. This is because, for a long time, one particular style of Sherry ruled supreme in the UK – an extra sweet version, known as the “cream” style.
Developed specifically for the British palate, Cream Sherry was first introduced in the late 1500s. By the end of the nineteenth century, one particular producer had become synonymous with the style – the eponymous Mr Harvey of Bristol.
Mass-market, sweetened styles still account for more than half of all the wine sold as Sherry in the UK today. No wonder then, that this is the style entrenched in the mind of the Great British drinker. It is not what your average Andalusian would recognise as Sherry though; nor does it do justice to the incredible, diverse range of flavours and styles on offer.
How Sherry is made
Sherries are all produced in Andalusia, a region of Spain near to the city of Jerez de la Frontera.
The region’s winemakers began fortifying their wines as a way to prevent spoilage in the hot Andalusian sun – adding a spirit to raise the alcohol of the wine and to act as a preservative. This created the fortified wine we know as Sherry today.
These now stabilised wines were much more likely to survive export, and were therefore shipped far and wide. It was the exportation process that inadvertently led to the development of various aging programmes, creating different types of Sherry.
The wines were most commonly exported in oak barrels and often stored in shippers’ warehouses for periods of time prior to distribution. Some of the wines would remain unsold for many years, slowly maturing and becoming ever more complex.
All of Borough Wines’ Sherries come from the oldest active Sherry shipper in the region, Delgado Zuleta. It was founded in 1744 by Fransisco Gil de Ledesma y Sotomayor and renamed for José Maria Delgado Zuleta, who married into the family in the 18th century.
Flor, Fino & Manzanilla
One process for making Sherry is to only fill five-sixths of the barrel with wine, leaving an air space above where a mixture of yeasts can grow. These yeasts are called “flor” and form protective layer on the surface of the wine, preventing oxygen from reacting with it. The liquid remains clear and lemon in colour in this oxygen-free environment.
The flor is highly active and consumes ethanol, any remaining sugars and glycerol from the wine, while churning out flavour components giving Fino its unique profile.
Manzanilla is a specific subcategory of Fino, which has been matured within the city limits of Sanlucar de Barrameda. ‘Manzanilla’ is Spanish for chamomile and it’s not hard to smell why this name was adopted for this floral style. The palate is very light in body and completely dry, the perfect foil for salty almonds and fresh green olives.
The Delgado Zuleta Manzanilla is a classic example. The wine spends between three and four years under the flor, developing many yeasty, bread like flavours alongside the green apple and lemon fruit.
The Delgado Zuleta Entusiasticomeanwhile, is extra special and perfect for Christmas. The very first certified Organic Manzanilla, the Entusiastico has the classic profile of green apple, lemon peel and yeasty dough notes, with an intriguing touch of salinity. Dry as a bone and highly refreshing, yet with fruit shining through. A treat!
It is the wines with the most finesse that undergo the biological process to become a Fino or a Manzanilla. The heavier, courser wines are fortified with more grape spirit in order to kill off the flor layer. These wines then undergo a process of physicochemical aging with the presence of oxygen.
These wines develop a deep mahogany colour and a heady range of aromas and flavours, often with notes of dried fruits, walnut, caramel, and toast. The wine is still dry, but with a perception of richness, which comes from the higher glycerol concentration, rather than sugar.
Amontillado is my particular favourite style. Starting life as a Fino, it is aged under flor (in the absence of oxygen), to develop those characteristic fresh, yeasty flavours. Instead of being bottled immediately as a Fino however,the flor is left to die away once all the nutrients are exhausted. After this point the wine develops along the lines of an Oloroso.
The result is a wine which exhibits flavours and aromas of both biological and oxidative aging. The perfect aperitif for nibbling on a range of umami laden comestibles – think anchovy stuffed olives and that posh chorizo from the deli counter.
Classically, a Palo Cortado is a Fino that is aged in the presence of oxygen like an Oloroso, because the flor dies early on in the wine’s development.
“This sounds like an Amontillado!” I hear you cry. The difference between the two wines is subtle but definite; the base wine for a Palo Cortado is a light delicate wine with finesse, as opposed to the courser heavier styles destined to be Amontillados or Olorosos. There will be little – if any – influence of biological aging, whereas this is a key component of the Amontillado style.
Sweets for my Sweet
Back in trifle territory – sweet Sherries are made in a different manner all together. Unlike the dry styles – all made from the Palomino grape – these sticky treats are made from Moscatel and Pedro Ximinez. These two grape varieties are dried in the sun before wine production, concentrating the sugars and flavours.
This is the style of Sherry that British drinkers will be most familiar with. Between them however, they account for less than 5% of all the grapes grown in the Jerez region (however, as long as they have been matured here they may be designated as Sherry).
Both of Delgado Zuleta’s examples of these grapes are rich, unctous, and very sweet. They are delightful when poured over ice cream, and make a wicked match for pecan pie. Some may find them a little on the cloying side, but I have found that a dash of something acidic can lighten them up, and really release the complex flavours (much like adding a dash of water to whisky). Add a slug of Chablis and see if you agree…
For the chance to win a Magnum of Delgado Zuleta Manzanilla en Rama, simply share this article on your Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, tag the friend you’d share it with and @BoroughWines (so we can see it!) before 12pm on December 10th.
Whether you’re stocking up on treats for the big day, or splashing out on gifts for others – chances are you’ll be hitting the shops a fair bit over the coming weeks.
To make the trudge to the tills a little easier – or at least, a little more mull-filled – we’re providing inspiration and festive spirit aplenty at our Christmas shopping evenings in the stores this week:
It’s our 15th birthday today! Gosh. In people terms, we’d be studying for our GCSEs and exploring our goth phase. In wine terms, we’d be hitting our stride as a vintage Bordeaux…
THANK YOU – our customers, neighbours and friends – for helping us hit this milestone. We’re humbled by your continuing friendship and support.
We couldn’t find a cake tin big enough, so instead we’re holding a 15th Anniversary Flash Sale to show our gratitude. Today, enjoy 15% off all beers, bottled wine and soft drinks in the London shops.
The same deal is also available online, for fifteen hours (sorry – couldn’t resist!). From 9am – midnight tonight, use the code 2002TO2017 to receive 15% off applicable products.
Should you be in need of a little inspiration, we’ve also put together a special commemorative Fifteen Wine Case to mark the occasion. This 15-bottle selection was hand-picked by founder Muriel Chatel and features favourite producers old and new. The wines come from across the world, with a focus on lesser known regions and styles. The RRP is £250, but for today only it’s 15% off, as are all our mixed cases.
Not quite ready for the stews and stodge of Autumn, we’re stubbornly holding on to summer for one more fortnight, thanks to a sun-soaked Mediterranean pop up with celebrated chef Oded Oren.
Across six nights of suppers, Oded will pay homage to the diverse cooking styles of the Eastern Mediterranean, with a country-hopping five-course tasting menu, served in our subterranean event space Brewery Below.
Expect home-made pitas heaving with sweet, plump seafood, plates heady with fresh herbs and generous glugs of Cretan olive oil.
Dishes include warm crispy sea bass salad and smoked tomatoes, homemade pita, stuffed with squid and warm chickpeas and cardamom panna cotta served with delicately-spiced quince.
With Oded overseeing the kitchen, we can focus on the wines, and we’re headed somewhere a little unexpected for that…
Lebanon has one of the oldest wine making traditions in the world, and in the east of the country, the lush Bekaa Valley has long been at its centre. It’s here that French explorer François-Eugène Brun founded Domaine des Tourelles in 1868. Now a winery of international repute, it is one of the oldest surviving estates.
We’ve chosen to focus on the bottles from Domaine des Tourelles for these dinners – to showcase the brilliant quality and diversity of wines being produced.
As the menu travels from sea shore to slow cooker, so the wine flight journeys from crisp whites and pinks, to bolder bottles, with complex notes of smoke and sweet spice.
At the dinners, the wines will be available as part of a tasting flight (£15), or by the glass, alongside a menu of specially chosen beers and long drinks.
Far from unlucky, attendees on Friday 13th October will be joined for dinner by the winemaker himself, Faouzi Issa, who will lead a guided tasting alongside the meal.
Book your place now – Oded Oren at Brewery Below runs Thursdays – Saturdays, October 12 – 21. Tickets are £42 and available to buy here.