That sounds rather disreputable, doesn’t it, gentle reader? The truth is, I was passing by the wine shop the other week and thought I’d stock up on some basics (you have to every so often), and while I was there it was mentioned that they’d just widened their range of local and independently produced gin. It was the morning though, so I resisted the temptation to have an early morning gin tasting, as it would wreak havoc with my productivity. But, as it happened, I was in the same neck of the woods a few days later, and it was the afternoon, so I just popped my head in, and lo and behold an impromptu gin tasting took place.
Having the Wine Connection close by has made Mrs Chrisparkle and me turn into wine snobs. No longer are we happy to be fobbed off by a Wetherspoon’s special. No longer do I look at the top of the wine list and work my way down a little – I start at the bottom (and tend to stay there). Don’t get me wrong – we’re not looking to spend as much as possible on wine, far from it, a bargain is nearly always tastier – but we now have a de minimis quality threshold on our tastebuds, and if it isn’t reached, we tend to shoot each other sorrowful glances, as we put up with consuming calories and units but without the big taste payback. We’ve never yet tried anything from the Wine Connection that wasn’t absolutely superb, even in the cheapie range – so it’s that confidence in what they sell (as well as being a very enjoyable buying process!) – that keeps us coming back.
It was the Wine Connection that introduced us to the local Warner Edwards range of gins a year or so ago, and their Harrington Dry Gin – “an exceptionally smooth gin handcrafted by lifelong friends Tom Warner and Sion Edwards in a barn in Harrington, Northants, including ingredients from their farms in England and Wales. A truly fabulous creation of which all of Britain can be proud.” That must all be true, as it says it on their label. But it is, it really is. It’s no good having a gin like that with a supermarket tonic either. I hadn’t realised that the tonic made such a difference to the gin. I thought they were all the same – apart from the obvious difference of “low calorie” or “full fat”. But it’s true – something underwhelming like Morrison’s own brand or something sledgehammery like Schweppes doesn’t do your decent gin any favours. Hence the recommendation for Fever-tree tonic. If we’ve just got shop brand tonic in, we’ll go with our Bombay Sapphire (which, when we discovered it eight years ago came as a fantastic alternative to the Gordon’s I’d grown up with). But the mix of Warner Edwards and Fever-tree is pretty sensational.
But the idea of this tasting was to broaden my gin buds, so Graham (for it was he guiding me through this spiritfest) suggested I first tried a little Warner Edwards because I knew it and I knew I liked it, and then I could compare it with a few new alternatives. It was to be something of a “man’s tasting” as they’d run out of tonic so I had to have it all neat. Ah well, the trials and tribulations of a self-denying seeker for the truth, tsk, just one of those things you have to put up with. The Warner Edwards was as warm and smooth and yummy as I remembered.
So for contrast number one Graham poured me a little Two Birds. It’s a London Dry Gin produced in Market Harborough, if that isn’t a contradiction in terms. My initial sniff was a delightful surprise. It was really light and fragrant, and made a considerable contrast with the Warner Edwards. You know how when you walk through a department store (especially with a lady) and assistants jump out at you with strips of card with perfume on for you to have a sniff – well the “scent equivalent” would be that the Warner Edwards smells rich, warm and mature whilst the Two Birds is young, floral and cheeky. It’s very satisfying on the tongue and just reeks of quality. Surprisingly, at 40% strength, it’s 4% less than the Warner Edwards. I was really taken with it. “Lovingly handcrafted in small batches, our Great British gin is delicately distilled and infused with the finest countryside botanics”. That’s the label again, not me, but who am I to disagree.
Moving on to a second gin-challenge, Graham suggested I tried Pinkster. As the name suggests, it’s pink! Not a pink gin in the traditional definition of gin and angosturas bitters, though. The source of its pinkness hits you the moment you let it near your nostril – raspberry. It’s really fruity! It actually took me ages to get round to tasting it because I was enjoying the raspberry aroma so much. Imagine a really adult Raspberry Mivvi, and you’re not far off. Not that it’s a sweet drink at all – there’s plenty of juniper in there to accentuate the dryness – but it’s just got an irreverent streak to it which made it really stand out. I think I missed out the full experience with this one by not sampling it with tonic, but nevertheless, it’s still a treat neat.
And a third extra offering – another London Dry Gin called Little Bird, this one actually made in London. It’s another serious contender for your top quality G&T. Very smooth, very full in flavour, and very lingering. Taste is, of course, totally subjective, and whilst I enjoyed it very much and expect it would be great with some Fever-tree, I didn’t feel it had the subtlety of either the Two Birds or the Pinkster. Still you’d definitely choose it over the majority of other gins you might get offered.
There were a couple of extras to this gin tasting, both courtesy of the Two Birds stable. Firstly, they do a vodka. My experience of “good” vodka is limited to blue label Smirnoff (great with a mixer) and black label Smirnoff, good enough to drink alone; by which I mean with nothing added, not you quietly knocking it back by yourself all alone in a rotting garret somewhere. Again I sampled this one neat – and I’d say it was definitely one for the boldness of just having it on the rocks and to hell with the consequences. I could imagine hordes of Russian tourists all having a very boozy breakfast with this. And, as if that wasn’t enough, Two Birds make their own absinthe. Yes, I tried the absinthe, all 70% of it, and it certainly makes the heart grow fonder. A complex blend of aniseed and wormwood apparently. It hits your tongue and it evaporates, and you’re left with a knock-out sense of something very powerful and rather mysterious. I blame the wormwood. Could it be used as a mitigating plea in court? I’m very sorry, Your Honour, the Wormwood made me do it.
I thought I’d treat myself to a bottle of something that I’d tried – and in the end I plumped for the Two Birds gin. But they were all extremely scrummy. There’s another wine tasting on Saturday night – a selection of Portuguese wines. Sounds beguiling! 11 Derngate, Northampton, is the place, and I shall be there! But in any case, the Northampton Wine Connection is always worth a visit, to broaden your wine horizons and to get that certain something you definitely won’t find in the supermarket.