We had the pleasure of Lorenzo Marolo, visit us from Alba, Piedmont, Italy and we wouldn’t have missed the opportunity for him to host a master class and talk about his father’s products. Lorenzo talked about the producers who supply them with the pommace (skin and seeds of grapes) and the distinctive single distillation production method they use in their pot stills. They also distil at a lower temperature to achieve the characteristics and flavours they want.
The first grappa we tried was the Brunello made from Sangiovese with almond and cherry like aromas and a gentle spice finish. We then tried the lightly aged Monriondo made from Barbera which had notes of sherry, honey and light nuttiness.
We then tried the two aged grappas of the Barolo 12year, and then the Barolo 1983. The 12 year made from Nebbiolo had vanilla notes, cacao, honey and spices, whilst the 1983 had been finished in a variety of Armagnac, Sherry and Oak casks that gave a stewed fruit and vanilla aromas and tasted of rich plum, chocolate and spice.
The next couple to sample were the Moscato, and the Moscato Apres. The unaged Moscato was very aromatic with a floral nose and quite herbaceous with hints of sweetness and spice on the palate. The Moscato Apres had aromas of candied fruits, raisins and a touch of caramel on the palate, gentle spices and some citrus fruits.
We lastly tried the Milla, a Camomile liqueur, and the Chinato. The Milla had lovely fresh Camomile aromas with notes of honey and naturally herbaceous. The Chinato, aged in Barrique Barrels, used Barolo wine to give the cherry, plummy and fruitful flavours with hints of fig and tobacco. We had the pleasure of a Manhatten using the Chinato and a Rosemary Sour using the Moscato, both which were excellent and showed that grappa can be used in Cocktails more often.
On the hottest day of the year so far, what’s needed is a splash of Rum, and that’s what we got at theFlor de Cana Masterclass at Amathus, Wardour Street, on the 17th July! Hosted by Marc Catalan from Flor de Cana, we were refreshed with a complimentary cocktail called a Macua which was a concoction of Flor de Cana 4yr white, fresh lime, orange, and the addition of Goji juice which hit the spot!
Marc talked about the background and origins of Flor de Cana and how it has grown to be the biggest Rum in Central America! It is still run by the family and independently owned, and what was really interesting was that it is the only Slow-Aged Rum in the world. Slow Ageing means that it has to be naturally aged, no additions and does not blend different ages together.
We sampled the 4yr White and the 4yr Gold with some Mango ice-cream, both rums would be great in Cocktails with their range of flavours. We then tried the flagship 7yr with some dark chocolate, which really worked well as the cacao and vanilla notes really came through.
The final Rums we tried were the Centenario 12yr, a wonderfully aromatic Rum with a delightful taste with hints of prunes, chocolate and a gentle hint of spice. And lastly, the Centenario Gold 18yr, a delicate and sumptuous Rum reserved for a special occasion because as much as 80% of the original rum in the barrel was lost to the Angel’s Share! Lucky Angels.
A great evening sampling some fine rums and looking forward to mixing some Cocktails.
Just in time for a lovely weekend heat wave as July gets under way, we had our Summer Wines blind tasting event at Amathus Soho! With a trio of whites, two pairs of rosé (one with bubbles!) and a trio of reds to tickle our taste buds – we were eager to get started and get tasting!
Round one was the trio of whites, carefully picked by Amathus’ Wine Buyer, Sarah Knowles. “These are all aromatic wines, and don’t worry – I am not going to make you guess the grape varieties on these – this round is about what you taste in the glass” begins Sarah. The first was a zesty lemon and citrus nose with a hint of elderflower, and to taste there was fantastic acidity and a delicious white pepper spice note too! The second had a warmer nose – almost baked apples – and the taste was softer on the palate but there was this delicious “stony” minerality there too. At this point Sarah explained that she had picked these three as they all had something more than just fruit on their taste profile. The first being spice and the second being minerality – so we all delved into the third to try and decipher what this one might show… It was more yellow in colour and there was a lovely smell of orange blossom and peaches on the nose that followed through to mouth along with apricot and tropical notes; and that extra taste, which you couldn’t miss, was an almost salty quality to the wine!
Whilst tasting these we had a delicious piece of smoked salmon sushi – that went unbelievable well, especially with the final white!
Revealing the wines; we discovered the first was Ewald Gruber’s Gruner Veltliner from Austria, the second was an Italian white Gavi di Gavi from producer Il Poggio, and the third white was a wine from Spanish producer Agro de Bazan and was the Equita Ambar made from albariño grapes!
Round two was two pairs of rosé wines, one still pair and one sparkling.
Sarah told us first to look at the colour of the rosé wines. “Rosé doesn’t need to be pink,” she explained, “this is a decision that is made from the producer himself that chooses when to take the skins away from the juice. The long the skins are in contact, the pinker the resulting wine and also the more tannins and body there will be.” The first rosé was very pale, almost salmon, and smelt of strawberries and cranberries. The taste was light and refreshing, and surprisingly dry. “Rosé is becoming more sophisticated. It is largely drunk in France as a serious wine, and the preconception of rosé being just for women is starting to lift in the UK.” The second was much darker in colour and there was a smoky note on the nose that intrigued us all – and a smell that we would be well familiar with by the end of the tasting. Again there were cranberries on the mouth, that smoky note remained and there was a slight (pleasant) bitter note too, like aperol almost.
With this first pair we enjoyed a piece of chicory with pecorino cheese on top- and surprising for a rosé but the second rosé was incredibly paired for this little nibble.
The next two rosé wines were unmistakably sparkling. “You can tell from the bubbles, the quality of sparkling wine. Fine, persistent bubbles (i.e. they are moving for a long time) means the great quality wines – and it was clear these were both in that category. The first had notes of brioche, vanilla, toast and strawberry, a luscious round mouthfeel and a satisfying and tasty finish. The second sparkling again showed notes of brioche but was more complex as, again, that slight hint of smoky/farmyard smell was present. Slight softer in the mouth and a longer finish, and paired beautifully with a large rip strawberry to taste alongside!
Revealing the still wines; the first was a rosé from the Provence region in France from producer Chateaux de Nestuby – a blend of grapes including Mourvedre, Cinsault, Grenache and several more. The second of the still rosés was from a French producer that produces New Zealand wine in Marlborough, Georges Michel, and is 100% pinot noir (hence the smoky notes).
Revealing the sparkling wines; Both of the sparkling wines were from Champagne in France; the first was from Claude Renoux in Epernay, and the second was Louis Martin Grand Cru rosé from Bouzy – and was predominantly pinot noir based (again, those smoky notes – we sensed a theme!)
Sad to be moving on to our last set of wines, we progressed to the trio of reds. Unusually though, the first of these was slightly chilled! Intrigued we picked this up and started the tasting. Notes of blueberries, cherries and a hint of black pepper, this was a delicious red wine that was smooth, soft and low tannins – which is why it works chilled. The second red wine had an incredible cherry aroma, was much higher tannins and bigger bodied, filling your mouth, and had a lovely long finish. It was one we would all agree would go superbly with a summer BBQ and went very well with the selection of cured meats that appeared on the table! The third one had an unmistakably different colour, with tints of orange and brown. We picked up the wine and there were notes of strawberry, cranberry, leather and undoubtedly that lovely earthy, farmyard smell – this has to be a pinot noir!
Revealing the wines; the first was from Beaujolais made with the gamay grape from producer Manoir du Carra, the second was an Italian valpolicella from Le Ballerine, and the third – of course – a pinot noir from New Zealand and another from Georges Michel!
It was a fantastic evening filled with interesting facts, delicious wines, and we all learnt how to smell a pinot noir wine! With everyone staying to finish the remains of their wines and not wanting to leave a drop, it was clear that we would all be signing up to the autumn one – thanks Sarah!
On Wednesday, we were fortunate to be joined by the fantastic Andrea Martín Targa from Ron Montero to learn the history of this very special rum, while also getting a chance to try it for the first time. Started by her Great Uncle Francisco Montero Martín in 1963, this is still a family owned business in Motril, an area with a fine rum-making history.
Andrea explained to us the process of rum making, from the extraction of molasses to the distillation process, and what makes Ron Montero unique. Two of the key distinctions are their solera aging system and their use of un-charred virgin American oak barrels. We were also told of all the efforts that they go through to try and maintain the delicate balance between the flavours of the aguardiente and the oak as the rum ages. And having tasted the rums, their efforts are most appreciated!
We started with the Ron Monter Palido, which translates to pale rum, and is made using the solera system with rum aged a minimum of 3 years. It was a noticeably dry rum, and would be a great rum for cocktails. The next rum we tried was the Gran Reserva, which is made using rums with a minimum age of 5 years. This uses a higher proportion of the aguardiente, which leads to a fuller flavoured rum with strong hints of vanilla, caramel with a dry oaky finish.
The last rum we were treated to was the Francisco Montero, made to celebrate the companies 50th anniversary, and made using rums with a minimum age of 10 years. This was a stunning rum; mellow, smooth and rich, and the perfect way to end the tasting.
What with the weather being so unpredictable of late and sunshine never guaranteed, I was extremely excited about tasting some delicious fruity Argentinian wines to at least have a taste of some warmer climates… and that brings me to this delightful tasting at Amathus Soho!
Bodegas Carelli is run by a father and son team, both named Enrique, meaning that the winery is well into its third generation of Carellis! Enrique junior is hosting this event and welcomes us all warmly with a great smile and enthusiasm and leads us straight into an introduction of the Carelli’s winery.
The winery lies on 34 degrees latitude (hence the name of one of their brands of wine) and the vineyards sit on various different altitudes, which define the style of wine that they produce – the higher the altitude correlating to the better the quality. It was built in 1895 and Enrique’s grandfather bought the building in 1943. The walls are made of Adobe brick that our 1m thick to help protect the wines during fermentation. The Argentinian climate is a key player in the resulting wines; they have about 2cm of rain a year and even this is mostly hail when it occurs. The vines are therefore watered using a careful channel system from a reservoir. Intense afternoon sunshine is also a danger so they have mastered the best way to shape the vines so as to protect them; winding them in an East-West orientation. The product of the vineyards, careful vine management and magnificent wine making skills are 34 degrees and Carla Chiaro ranges of their wines – the 34 Degrees range being the first up for tasting today!
The aim of this range was to really express the fruit itself and show the quality of the grapes that can come from the Argentinian climate, altitude and great wine making of Bodegas Carelli. These wines have spent no time in oak and are young, fresh and bursting with delicious fruit. The white Torrontes showed floral aromas and flavours with hints of apricot and tropical fruits, yet had a crisp dry finish. We enjoyed this along with some mature cheese that had chilli flakes inside showing that this is a great wine to have with spicy foods! The Cabernet/Merlot rose had notes of strawberry, raspberry and red cherries but was still a dry style of rose. The balance of acidity and length made this great as a wine you could drink on its own but would certainly stand up to enjoying with some light foods. The Cabernet Sauvignon was delicious and just what you want from a drink now, fruity red – black fruits, brambles, great smooth tasting and a lovely finish! And who can forget Argentina’s claim to fame and the first of two Malbecs in the tasting; lovely fruit flavours and velvet tannins and a smooth finish; great to enjoy with the cured meats that were there to nibble on though the tasting.
The other two wines on tasting are from their Carla Chiaro range – situated at 1,100m altitude and thus a cooler region and suitable for some more complex styles of wine. The first, the Bonarda, didn’t disappoint. The first of the tasting to show some oaky notes due to gentle ageing it expressed black fruits, black cherries and fine tannins. The rich fruit flavour was balanced elegantly with hints of oak and the long lasting finish was simply delicious. Last, but not at least in any way, their 2009 vintage Malbec. Aged 12 months in second fill oak barrels, it showed a complex array of vanilla, sweet spice, black fruits; balanced perfectly with well rounded tannins and a very smooth finish.
These wines are great for an evening in with friends, or simply to enjoy with dinner – in fact, I took the Torrontes and the Cabernet Sauvignon away with me for an evening of just that! Thanks Enrique!
We were delighted this week to be joined by Audrey Bruisson from Rhum Clement and Rhum J.M. to talk to us about this
fantastic Agricole Rhum from Martinique. Though Agricole is only around 2% of all Rhum consumed, Clement is now present in 60 countries across the world and is a world leader in production.
Clement has been producing Rhum for 125 years now, and as such they have mastered the techniques of production. This includes having their own estate grown sugar cane so they can maintain high standards from field to bottle.
In order to maintain the Rhum Agricole AOC there are specific rules to make sure that the Rhum is of sufficient quality. This includes only allowing 24 hours to pass between harvesting and beginning fermentation; and having to spend the first year of production in barrels from Limousine before transferring to Bourbon barrels. Due to the climate of Martinique there will be losses of 8-12% from each barrel every year. This in turn makes aged Rhum Agricole a very precious liquid – which the tasting definitely proved.
We were given the chance to try 7 different Rhums from their range, starting with the incredibly smooth and delicious Clement Premier Canne. After this we were lucky enough to be able to taste the first bottle of Select Barrel in the UK. This was followed by the VSOP, which had a smooth and mellow taste with a delicate roasted cocoa aroma. We moved on to the J.M. after these, and the difference was apparent immediately. The JM Rhums had a more powerful aroma and were rich with spicy, vegetal notes. We progressed from the White, to the Gold and finished with the VSOP, which was a truly intense Rhum.
We were treated after the Rhums to some incredible Ti Punch Sorbet made by Marc Woods from Rumbling, followed by a Ti Punch – a great way to spend a Wednesday evening!
By Nick Bell
Wardour Street, London, W1F 0UN
Today is the Amathus Vod-koff blind tasting session and I am sat in front of a flight of 8 clear spirit samples. Knowing that they are vodka, my brain flits back and forth from previous memories of rounds of vodka “samples” whilst out with friends. However, surprisingly, this time my nose is not overwhelmed by the stench of alcohol, but instead I actually smell nothing! I lean forward to check its not water and the light citrus fumes of quality, premium vodka tickles my senses… OK, now I am ready…
Introducing the event is Eugenio from Tovaritch! Vodka. He explains that the object of today and of Tovaritch! as a brand is not to sing and shout about an amazing brand but to sit and consider it against the market leaders. It wanted to create a product that was premium and in competition with the big names; Grey Goose, Belvedere, Ketel One – but was at a lower price point.
Tovaritch! is a Swiss company but its productions are 100% Russian and are proud to claim that this has always been the case. Not widely known it has positioned itself more in the trade market with an aim to become a leading bar house vodka – offering premium quality at great value cost.
Tovaritch! translated means “Comrad” – so called main to convey their worldwide values as a company; never drink alone and socialise with your friends with Tovaritch. The bottle design uses red and silver – red in association with spirits and vodka, and a silver man to represent an image of a “Comrad” socialising with friends in a social environment.
Distilled 5 times, Tovaritch! removes all impurities to create a pure vodka without flavour and is filtered 20 times and very slowly to create a smooth and quality product. It is made from organic grains which means they have not been transformed or enhanced/altered in any way. It is reduced using artisan water from melted snow, and blended with the distilled spirit to create an exceptionally pure spirit.
So now we get to the blind tasting! We are all set to the task of tasting our way through the vodkas, and this is no easy task! All the vodkas are at premium quality and only a couple stand out above the rest… (3) for its rich and vanilla creaminess, (4) for a somewhat “raw” feel to it, and (7) for its distinct floral and perfumed nose profile! We all put our heads together and comment the following:
(1) A peppery smoke on the nose and quite a warming alcohol on the throat – though this was the first one so our palates are probably just adjusting. Long finish.
(2) Quite creamy, smooth. Oily and a little sweet spice.
(3) Rich, rounded, with a creamy vanilla and a hint of citrus on the nose – otherwise very odourless!
(4) Raw tasting – quite aggressive in comparison to the previous and it has a quite a raw element to it.
(5) Quite a silky feel but in terms of flavour, very nondescript.
(6) Grassy notes and a long finish.
(7) Floral, perfumed, sweet to smell and taste – I was wondering if this had been a flavoured vodka by accident!
(8) Earthy notes such as mushroom and a long finish.
Eugenio agrees along with us that vodka is a hard spirit to compare as it is known for its neutrality and qualities lending well to cocktails; as opposed to different expressions of the spirit itself. With lots of shocks and surprises along the way, the results were revealed…
There certainly were some shocks in there as people realised that their favourite/house vodkas were not so hot comparibly! Also, Eugenio described how there were debates in the industry as to whether Ciroc can be classed as a vodka due to it’s base being grape, but controversy aside, it cannot go unsaid that Tovaritch! had a great response blind! It clearly matched its competitors in the field and among the crowd came in the top 2/3 favourites of the bunch – but here’s the real shock, it is not only the cheapest but is priced at almost HALF the price of others at its level of quality!!
As I head for a rather strong coffee to find my feet again, I will leave you with a link to try for yourself! Working well in many, many vodka cocktails or enjoyed on the rocks in real Russian style – here is Tovaritch! Vodka >>>
It did not escape my notice that a flicker of fear ran through the eyes of those I mentioned “tequila tasting” to. Oh no, doubtless they have memories, albeit blurry, of scantily clad women with holsters and small glasses insisting you down a shot with lemon and salt, whooping and banging on the table then disappearing as fast as your cash. But this was the tequila tradition of the eighties, and not at all the lifestyle we are introduced to at this tasting. In any case, the lovable Mexican from the House of Cabrito & Centinela Tequilas with us today is called Jesus Morasso, and there’s nothing harsh about him.
On the contrary, we learn how this family-owned business makes memories with its tequilas, living life ‘como va’ or ‘as it goes’ – no hurry or sense of urgency, just a careful watch over the Weber Agave plants, planted in the Jalisco region of Mexico – the tequila highlands. There are five tequila regions in Mexico, rather like the delimited areas indicating permitted wines of France (AOCs) amongst which Jalisco is the main player. With its red soil, rich in iron oxide to produce a good concentration of sugars in the agave plant, tequilas from here tend to be fruitier than the more herbaceous tasting tequilas of Mexico’s lowlands.
Having established the first tequila distillery in 1904, the Centinela Family has grown considerably, with agave plantations covering the equivalent of 3,000 football fields to produce 4,000 piñas – or agave hearts – each day in order to make enough tequila for the Casa to reign as the third largest producer, providing Mexico with its most popular tequila.
Time for the taste test! We start with the Cabrito range – this is Mexico’s No. 1 selling tequila and in case you were wondering cabrito means goat (as depicted on the label) and can also be used to describe a rather cool, do-as-he pleases sort of a person – an independent spirit.
A clear, bright liquid with fruity flavours of the agave plant and a touch of herbal notes too. This is the ideal mixing tequila really – Nick (see picture) made lovely margaritas with this; freshly squeezed lime juice and a touch of agave syrup for sweetness. They really were refreshing and delicious.
Reposado tequilas have spent a little time in wood barrels. Ex-bourbon barrels are used as they may only be used once for bourbon, so there is still plenty of flavour to be extracted from the American oak of the barrel. Consequently there is a more spicy and complex palate than the Blanco, and softer mouth-feel.
On to the elegantly packaged Centinela range. (Centinela: The one who defends or protects.)
Centinela Blanco This blanco tequila had a stronger agave flavour than the Cabrito blanco, along with a real freshness. All the makings of a margarita linger, a hint of mint, salt and lime, although Nick mixed this one with Friché grapefruit soda and served it in a glass with a salt rim. This went down extremely well, possibly as the grapefruit flavour went so well with the agave.
Now we are onto tequilas to spend time with, definitely to be sipped and enjoyed! The Centinela Reposado is my personal favourite, with a bit of a green tea flavour along with cinnamon, toffee, vanilla and a hint of smokiness. Easy to drink, smooth and a lovely, soft mouth-feel.
Ooh, the intensity! This tequila is certainly more complex than the reposado, more closed too, but fuller in body, softer, heaps of vanilla and notes of sweetness – caramel, fudge and toffee. Not sure you would really want to mix this – not to make a margarita anyway, as that would hide some of the delicate flavours derived from more than a year on oak. A proper tequila lover’s tequila.