Archive for July 2016
Once upon a time, it was simple to make a gin and tonic. Today, there are so many new gins on the market, it can be difficult to know where to start. This is before you even get to the tonic water (...that's a whole other post!).
Without trying all of them first, what is the best way to ask for a new gin you want to try? First, let’s look at the fundamentals, and more specifically, the four flavour groups, to help you find a gin that works for you.
What is gin?
Technically, gin is vodka flavoured with juniper. Fine gins are distilled with an average of six to ten botanicals, although some boast up to 50 different botanicals. How the gin producer balances the flavours of the botanicals gives each gin its distinct identity.
The range of botanicals in gin is a gift for cocktail makers who want to experiment with flavour. The combinations are endless. Traditional gins aim to balance the flavours - juniper and citrus, or floral and herbaceous - but smaller gin houses often emphasise one group of flavours for exciting results.
The 4 flavour groups
All gins must be distilled with juniper, but some are distinctly juniper heavy. Traditional styles, such as London Dry gins, Navy Strengths or Plymouth gins, emphasise the juniper.
Try this: Fifty Pounds Rare and Handcrafted London Gin - a classic London gin as seen through the eyes of Spanish producers (Spain is one of the biggest consumers of London gin). Redolent of the traditional London gin, but softer and elegant on the palate.
Enter the “New Wave” styles. Here the emphasis is on floral botanicals. They are often softer and work well with woody characters such as cucumber or herbs, instead of the usual lemon slice.
Try this: Monkey 47 - a very balanced gin with floral notes of dog rose, elderflower, hibiscus, honeysuckle, and jasmine.
The traditional counter-balance for juniper is citrus. Juniper itself has a citrusy-lemon note to it, which is why a slice of lemon is a classic accompaniment. The traditional London Dry style has the classic Christmas tree flavours - pine needles, citrus and juniper.
Try this: Death Door Gin - classic citrus notes with spicy coriander and fennel characters
Whether the gin is more herbaceous or spicy adds another layer of complexity to the gin. Spicy gins can be slightly sweeter and fragrant, while herbaceous gins are more forceful in flavour. Any spice found along the spice route can be included in the distillation: anise, angelica root, liquorice, cinnamon, saffron, nutmeg, cassia bark are just some of the examples.
Try this: Sacred Gin from Highgate - the signature note is frankincense, and the inspiration for the Sacred Gin name.
Back in 1956 - the last heyday for Sherry - Ruper Croft-Cooke wrote in his guide to Sherry, “There is sherry, and there are all other wines.”
It’s been a long time coming, but 60 years later, we are now in the midst of another Sherry renaissance. This time around, it’s dry sherry rather than the sweet style you are more likely to find at the back of grandma’s liquor cabinet.
Sherry is now proudly listed on wine lists in the best bars and restaurants around the world.
Certainly there’s been an improved distribution of smaller, high-quality bottlings to the UK. And bartenders have done their part in showing how versatile sherry is as a cocktail ingredient. We also have a new generation of drinkers increasingly opting for the intensely savoury over the fruity sweet flavours. Umami work so well with the variety of dishes. Think of the tapas bar: sherry is equally comfortable with a spicy chorizo to a hot pimiento de padrón,
It can also be beautifully simple. All dry fino sherry really needs is to be chilled down on a sunny day, catching up with friends and a simple bowl of Marcona almonds.
Ready to learn more about dry sherry? Load up your copitas with a fino and read on.
What is Sherry?
Sherry can only be made in a very specific area of south-west Spain called the “Sherry triangle” in Andalucia: between Jerez de la Frontera, Puerto de Santa Maria and Sanlucar de Barrameda. The magical combination of the unique chalky soil, the torrid sun and what is called the ‘solera system’ - a method of blending the wine from a “back catalogue” of older vintages. This creates food-friendly, complex wines that are more often dry than sweet.
Types of dry Sherry
Fino is a pale, light style of Sherry. Made from the relatively neutral Palomino grape, the flavours come from its time spent under a film of yeast called the flor. The layer of flor in the barrel deprives the wine of oxygen and the flor yeast gradually dies over seven to ten years. Usually fino is bottled at four to seven years, to preserve the fresh flavours before the flor dies away (and exposing the wine to oxygen).
Try this: Fino Sherry El Maestro Sierra
Manzanilla is made the same way as fino, the only difference is that it must be made in the seaside town of Sanlucar de Barrameda where the climate by the sea causes the flor to be thicker. Some people say they can taste the sea in a glass of Manzanilla. It is the driest and most pungent of all sherries.
Amontillado is darker and richer than a fino. When the flor dies, unlike fino, the wine remains in the cask exposing it slowly to oxygen. This gives Amontillado its oxidative character. You will find Amontillado is less citrussy and less fresh than a fino; instead, it has an elegant, rich and complex structure with notes of nuts, butterscotch, caramel and bitter toffee. It can be served a little warmer than fino or manzanilla.
Not all Oloroso is sweet. In fact, dry Oloroso - or Oloroso seco - is what sherry lovers find the most thrilling. Unlike Fino and Amontillado, Oloroso are not aged under flor. This is full throttle oxidative wine in action. For naturally dry Oloroso, the higher alcohol strength and fuller body of an Oloroso will give the impression of roundness and even sweetness.
Try this: Villapanes Oloroso Seco Emilio Hidalgo
How to store Sherry
Fino and Manzanilla
Fino and Manzanilla have been protected under a layer of flor for their whole life before they are bottled. That is why they are not meant to be cellared as exposure to oxygen will degenerate the wine. Ideally the bottle should be finished in one sitting, although this is easy to do, it is not always practical! Always keep the bottle well-sealed and in the refrigerator once opened.
Amontillado and Oloroso
Because Amontillado and Oloroso are already oxidised while developing in the barrel, they do not react as badly to oxygen as fino and manzanilla. Amontillado can be kept open for a month, while Oloroso can be kept for a couple of months. Generally speaking, the older the wine, the longer they can be kept.