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  • PUT YOUR PALATE TO THE TEST

    Like a pretentiousness-seeking missile that annihilates wine snobbery whenever it is deployed, The Palate has shown thousands of people over the past four years that wine tasting is easy and it is for everybody.

    The Palate 2015

    Like wine but are sure that your friend with the Master of Wine qualification/impressive wine cellar/bragging arrogance is much better qualified to talk about it? Yeah, that’s not true. Come to The Palate at any of our shops this weekend (27/28) and we’ll show you that anyone with a tongue in their mouth can use it to taste wine – and to talk about it, too.

    Did we mention that, as well as the chance to win the title of The Palate 2015, you can win: a wine holiday to South Africa; a long weekend in Italy; a day course at the Raymond Blanc Cookery School; wine prizes totalling £3,000; much free wine; and the chance to pick a wine for us to list nationwide? Now that’s something to brag about.

  • GINDUSTRIAL TASTING THIS WEEKEND

    In the same way that dogs don’t arrive in the world being able to skip backwards around an assault course at Krufts, grain, peat and botanicals don’t just turn into delicious libations all by themselves: they need time, skill and love invested in them. They need nurturing by people who know what they’re doing. It’s abundantly clear when a drink has been made by a ham-fisted eejit and when it has been made with skill and passion. Be it ageing in soleras in the highlands of Guatemala (Ron Zacapa Rum), or infusing with bog myrtle and dandelion (Caorunn Gin), the ‘nurturing’ process involves is a mind-boggling array of decisions and the results are infinitely diverse and fascinating. So, this weekend we will be putting two curiously crafted gins on free tasting , so you can take notes on the effect their ‘upbringing’ has had on them…

    G'Vine Floraison

    First up is G’Vine Nouaison (£39.50). G’Vine is the only gin in the world to use the vine flower as a botanical and these ‘ginspired’ gins beautifully harness the different stages of the vine’s life. Whilst G’Vine Floraison is made with the fleeting magic of the budding flower, G’Vine Nouaison is heady, spicy and aromatic, as it is made with the mature flower as it transitions into a berry. Basically, if you are really undecided between buying a wine and a gin, this is your man.

    Aviation.jpg

    Let’s say you’re less of a vine-loving Francophile, and more of an Aviator-wearing All-America. Well, there’s a gin for you, too. The botanicals chosen for Aviation Gin aim to conjure up the ‘lushness, spice, creativity, and freshness of the Pacific Northwest’. They do this using the rich, floral and savoury notes of lavender, cardamom, and sarsaparilla and the result is a leather-clad, sexy beast of a gin that will make you think you’re top gun.

    If scientists want a decisive answer on the nature vs nurture debate, they should really come along. White coats not necessary.

  • BEER TASTINGS AHOY

    When it comes to beer, as with many things in life, it’s nice to explore different styles in detail, but then it can also be fascinating to gather up different styles and see how they all compare. So, that is what we have served up in our shops this weekend (May 16/17) – a buffet of beery goodness, featuring: two different styles of lager from a bigger producer; two similar styles in a Pale Ale and IPA (both local to your local shop); and a cider for good measure.

    Celia Lager

    Celia Lager (4.5%, £2.65) – T‘int right, t’int fair, t‘int fit, t’int proper that people who love beer should have to suffer from fatigue and other unpleasant complaints after enjoying a brew. Enter stage left Celia, a tasty, crisp, gently malty (and organic) lager that delivers flavour without the bother – a timely tipple for Coeliac Awareness week. Brewed with local Saaz hops and Moldavian Malt, it is the only pilsner in the world made with the benefit of being gluten-free with all natural carbonation.

    Celia Dark Lager (5.7%, £2.65) – ‘Tis a bit of a rare thing, dark lager, and its colour comes from the dark malts used in the brewing process. This one (which is also gluten-free and organic) is a beguiling mahogany colour and combines the rich, mellow flavours of the malt with the crisp, refreshing Žatec hops to produce a balanced end result.

    Local beer

    Two ‘mystery’ local brews – your local Oddbins will also be putting on a Pale Ale and an IPA of their choice. Although Pale Ales tend to be gentler and lighter in style and IPAs err on the hoppier, higher alcohol side, the possibilities, as someone once said, are endless. It’s time to see how local brews fare against the big boys.

    Angry Orchard Cider (5%, £2.25) – but you might be more of a straw-chewing, cider-lover, so we’ve included this new, friendly chappy of a cider (despite the name, it is not a red-faced Phil Mitchell-type). No, this young American is crisply refreshing, with a slightly sweet, ripe apple flavour that is hard to resist. As we say, nothing like Phil Mitchell.

    But don’t take our word for it – come on down, get familiar with them and make your own minds up.

  • THE PALATE 2014: THE AUSTRALIAN ADVENTURE

    For this edition of Odd Blog, we hand over the reins to Steve Saunders, the affable Bristolian and new Dad who blew us all away at The Palate 2014 and sipped, slurped and gargled his way to wine tasting victory. Over to you, Steve...

    So here we were, just over five months after the whirlwind of vinous pleasure that was The Palate 2014, and I was off to Australia - the headline-grabbing prize that I was amazed to have won last September, courtesy of Longview Wines and Berton Vineyards. I was even allowed to take the other half with me. Lovely.

    Having chatted via email with Longview’s winemaker and all-round great bloke Peter Saturno, I had my tickets ready and a pretty sensational itinerary. The relaxed sage of the Eden Valley, Bob Berton (of Berton Vineyards fame), then dropped me a line with the plan for the first couple of days at his place. He gave me an interesting choice of either food and wine matching with some old friends of his, or shark diving. As I have not yet had my arm bitten off by a glass of Shiraz I chose the former. Maybe next time Jaws.

    Sydney

    As Australia is quite a trek, Peter and those excellent folks at Oddbins moved my flights about so I could stay in Oz for the best part of two weeks. I spent the first week with my cousin Andrew and his girlfriend Pen in Sydney and, between reptile parks, 360 degree dining and a few beers in ‘Crowy’ (a suburb in Sydney) we also found time to hit some wineries, before commencing the rest of the trip. I was so excited I could crush a grape – which I did, but more of that later….

    After a quick flight to Adelaide we were met by Peter Saturno and, after somehow managing to keep pace with him in our Hyndai i20 hire car, we arrived at the beautiful Longview Vineyards. We were housed in one of the new eco lodges at the vineyard, which was fantastic and housed an array of great wines. Not only that but it was also overlooking a block of Pinot Noir vines… appetite suitably whetted we met Peter and his brother and partner in crime, Mark, in the dining room for dinner. We chatted like old friends around a roaring fire and enjoyed an array of delicious dishes including rare beef, salads and roasted vegetables.

    Longview

    We kicked things off with a tour of the Longview winery, which involved some grape picking, squashing and tasting, checking out the various blocks of vines and watching two Grey Kangaroos hop away after a free sip of the Nebbiolo. Throughout our stay, we got our laughing gear around the other Longview wines, including the Red Bucket Semillon Sauvignon Blanc, which took this classic white Bordeaux blend to new heights with its fresh citrus flavours and zippy acidity. The Whippet Sauvignon Blanc , which had fresh lemon with elderflower and herby notes, with a lovely restraint and elegance but that burst of up-front deliciousness the Aussies do so well. The smooth berry flavours of Red Bucket Shiraz-Cabernet/Sauvignon followed by the minted blackcurrant and spice of Devil’s Elbow Cabernet Sauvignon and then the decadent raspberry and pepper of Yakka Shiraz. Yum. Our final day in the Adelaide Hills had come too soon, so it was with regret that we bade goodbye to our wonderful hosts (although we cheered up when we were given a bottle of the juicy megalith that is The Piece Shiraz [available in selected Oddbins] to take with us (yesssss)!

    Steve

    Our trip to Eden Valley saw us acquainted with the laid back and wonderfully affable Bob and Cherie Berton of Berton Vineyards. After a quick beer and a chat we made our way over to the restaurant at Peter Seppelt Wines. We had a pretty racy and citrusy Riesling to kick things off then shared a wonderful array of wood-fired pizzas, washed down with a drop or two of Shiraz before we headed back to Berton.

    After a critically important lie in Bob, Cherie, my wife Steph and I drove to the Murray River where we enjoyed a rather lovely Berton Vermentino with fish and chips before going back for a wonderful slow roast lamb dinner with more excellent Shiraz and Cherie helped Steph dispose of a white tail spider which had joined us via our suitcase.. We then repaired to the lounge where Bob attempted to tutor me in the ways of Australian Rules football. To no avail. A great day though and a nice relaxing final day before we had to prepare for our flight back home.

    As Bob had to get back across Australia to take a flight to the UK, Steph and I used the time to make sure no more errant spiders had made their way into our cases. We then hit the road and had an excellent lunch at Lou Miranda Estate of light, crispy calamari and some excellent Pinot Grigio. Sadly it was then time to head back to the UK but with a head and heart full of wonderful memories of great food and wine and incredible people. And about half a stone to lose.

    Thanks to everyone for such a fabulous trip but especially to Peter and Mark Saturno and Bob and Cherie Berton – and of course Oddbins – for making this dream journey a reality.

    Cheers!

    ***You can find Oddbins’ range of Longview Wines in-store and here and our range of Berton Vineyards wines in-store or here***

  • THE ALTERNATIVE POLLS WINNERS - IT COULD BE YOOUU

    We may sometimes come across as (wine-loving) misanthropic nihilists but right now, in the words of our Glorious Leader Dave, we feel bloody lively. *Rolls sleeves up, strides on to the stage and grabs the mic*. Because, though the polling stations may be smelly sports halls, guarded by kind yet stern citizens who may actually kill you if you transgress electoral rules, the majority of this country will be heading out to vote today. Save a bit of light vote rigging, there is nothing more that politicians can do to sway the outcome of the election. However, before you go on your merry way, we at Oddbins would like to announce (da da daaaa) the winner of our recent Alternative Polls, in which we put five Rhône Valley reds on tasting and secretly assigned the wines to a political party. Using the lesser-known Single Tasty Vote (STV) system, we have crunched the numbers and the winner is…

    Arnesque CNDP

    … no-one! OK we should explain that. In true political style, we may have misled you last week, as not all five wines represented a political party (as Lucy Powell MP quite rightly says, just because we carved our pledges in stone, it doesn't mean we might not break them). Domaine de l’Arnesque Châteauneuf-du-Pape (£24) was our bluff card – and it is also our winner, with 35% of the vote. But if it doesn’t stand for a political party, what does it stand for? Well, it stands for everything that we think a political leader should be. It is a solid wine with charisma and substance that shines out like a beacon for the people – and wouldn’t be seen near a bacon sandwich. Like the cross-key emblem of this famous southern Rhône wine, our dream PM is identifiable and assertive and has all the bottle that you could hope for. YES.

    Parties

    That’s the dream. But what of the other four wines? Well, blow us down with a feather if we haven’t got a result that would seem to match pollsters' predictions (which is no surprise, as our methods were empirical and perfect). We have got four wines with a similar proportion of the vote, whose characters may not have the voting magnetism of Châteauneuf du Pape, but have legions of loyal fans nonetheless. Without further ado, the results for the UK (well, anywhere near an Oddbins) are:

    Labour – 19%
    Conservative – 17%
    Liberal Democrats – 14%
    SNP – 14%
    Spoilt ballots – 1% (some people struggle aiming in the spittoon)

    NB whilst they are serious contenders, we have not included UKIP in these results. This is because Oddbins does not have any shops in UKIP strongholds (quelle surprise… sorry Nigel, we mean ‘what a surprise’), so it would be unfair to include them with such a handicap.

    Rick Blaine

    The eagle-eyed among you will have noted that we haven’t yet told you which wines represent which parties – and that’s because we’re a bit like Bisto: we save the best ‘til last (yeah, we just said that). We are leaving it to you to link the following wines, with their cunningly subtle allusions to Labour, Conservatives, Lib Dems and the SNP, to these parties:

    Reserve de Fleur Côtes du Rhône (£8.50) – this wine Unites people in admiration of it – you could say it’s the rose of the Rhône.
    Domaine de l’Arnesque Côtes du Rhône (£9.50) – fruity and mellow, this wine can lend support to a surprising range of main dishes.
    Vidal-Fleury Ventoux (£9) – Ventoux may be an unassuming appellation - you could say it's the ‘quiet man’ of the Rhône - but it is supported by some rich, rich, rich flavours.
    Colombo Le Vent Rouge Côtes du Rhône (£10) – this is a slick wine with deep reserves of flavour. Although it doesn’t work with salmon…do try it with sturgeon.

    But we find that voting is such thirsty work, so the first five people to email alternative.polls@oddbins.com with each wine’s affiliated party will win a mixed case of Alternative Polls wines. Now that’s what we call a result.

  • Miss Whisky Tastings

    Whisky news ahoy!

    If you are a person who loves whisky and, more specifically, a person in Aberdeen, Edinburgh or Mitchell Street who loves whisky, train your periscope on this here news.

    Miss Whisky Blog

    The one and only Alwynne Gwilt – AKA Miss Whisky – is a prolific whisky blogger and writer and will be hosting tastings of Glengoyne, Tamdhu and Smokehead at the following shops, from 4.30-7pm:

    Aberdeen City – Wednesday 29th April
    Queensferry Street, Edinburgh – Thursday 30th April
    Mitchell Street, Glasgow – Friday 1st May

    Alwynne has been named one of the Top 10 Women in Whisky by The Drinks Business magazine and, quite simply, knows her stuff.

    Come with open ears and open mouths and prepared to be wowed.

  • ODDBINS' ALTERNATIVE POLLS

    What we are about to say does not come naturally for us, so you’ll have to imagine us mumbling it petulantly through gritted teeth, but… we think UK politics has never been so exciting. They’re clearly still a bunch of obsequious scoundrels, but boy is it nice to have some more options on the table. We’re not saying we want an Italian-style system, with eight major parties with names like Left Ecology Freedom, but anything that challenges the two party monopoly is surely a good thing.

    Swingometer Alternative Polls

    How things will play out on May 7 is now the question on everyone’s lips. But wouldn’t it be nice if you could put that question, quite literally, on your lips? Well, like a vinous version of Cilla Black’s Surprise Surprise, we are going to make your wish come true. This weekend (April 25/26) we will be turning our shops into make-shift polling stations for a pre-election election. We will be putting five reds from the Rhône Valley on blind tasting, with each wine representing one of the five main political parties. What you – the voter – have to do is sip the wines, cogitate and put a cross on the ballot paper against your preferred wine. We will then reveal the wines’ affiliated parties and declare the winner of Oddbins’ Alternative Polls. If we call it right, then Peter Snow officially has to give us his Swingometer.

    Alternative Polls Ballot Paper

    But why the Rhône Valley? Well, a number of reasons. Like our newly diverse political landscape, this thin strip of a wine region has a surprising amount of choice. That’s because as well as being thin, it spans a considerable distance, giving it a range of climates and, consequently, wine styles. Modern winemaking techniques and a move away from heavily oaked and over-extracted styles means that the varying characters are expressed very eloquently. OK maybe that’s where they differ from the party candidates. Also, although it is famed for the big names like Côte Rôtie and Châteauneuf du Pape – the Labour and Conservatives of the Rhône – you can get excellent value for money from Rhône’s smaller ‘parties’, such as Lirac, Vacqueyras and the broader appellations of Côtes du Rhône and Côtes du Rhône Villages.

    Our alternative candidates include a big showstopper name in there – but with no spin doctors in sight to gild and coif the candidates, how will it fare against other Rhônes? We’ve put a cork in our candidates’ mouths – now it’s time to see who has the bottle.

  • EASTER, MEDITERRANEAN STYLE

    Mediterraneans just do things better, don’t they? They eat better, they drink better and they look better. In comparison, us northerners look like anaemic Flintstones. Take Easter, for example. The usual procedure over here is to buy over-priced, low-quality chocolate eggs and eat them, guiltily, just as the new year’s diet was beginning to have an effect.

    Go to Greece, Spain or Italy and you’ll find communities coming together at lively, colourful celebrations with beautiful lamb spits and other traditional fare.

    So, this Easter, we say, Go Mediterranean. But, if you don’t quite have the time to organise a neighbourhood gathering and serve an entire spit roast *shocked gasp*, then just chuck a leg o’ lamb in the oven with heaps of rosemary and serve it with the 100% Grenache Serabel Côtes du Rhône (£8). It is made by Cave de Monterail, a teensy negociants who offer extraordinarily good value for money. It’s a compact little spice-box of a wine that is liberally endowed with rich, black fruit and bright tannins and is outrageously good with lamb.

    If you’re less of a traditionalist and see this four day Bank Holiday weekend as an opportunity to do nothing but watch Murder, She Wrote/go clubbing/play chess, whilst sipping at a spectacularly good G&T, check dis out…

    Easter - Gin Mare

    We have the muy bueno Gin Mare (£41.25) on free tasting in all shops this weekend. Made with Arbequina olives, Greek thyme, Italian basil and Turkish rosemary, in a distillery near Spain’s Costa Dorada, it is a decidedly Mediterranean gin and is decidedly Odd (that’s a big compliment round these parts). It has to be tasted to be believed… come on down!

  • BREW NEWS: ADVENTURES IN BEER

    When we started out in this business in 1963, little did we imagine that, after 50 years of selling wine and having more fun than is probably decorous, we would open up a specialist beer shop. But that is EXACTLY what we’ve done.

    Don’t panic though, this doesn’t mean that we’ve grown tired of wine – that would never happen in ten zillion years – we have just developed a massive craft beer crush. And so have you and it is in response to your enthusiastic beer purchasing habits that we decided to open Oddbins: The Beer Shop in Blackheath, London.

    Here is a picture of our lovely new beer emporium (which is in Tranquil Vale, just over the road from our wine shop in Blackheath):

    Blackheath Beer Shop News

    Most of the beers stocked are from Britain – with a large swathe of those from local breweries in London – and are a devilishly exciting cross-section of our nationwide range.

    Oddbins shops up and down the land stock many beers and ciders that are only available at their store. However, at The Beer Shop, you can find them all in one singularly tasty spot.

    Blackheath Beer Shop Shelves

    From Brixton Brewery’s Electric IPA (£2.60) to Oddbins No. 3 (£2.80), our collaboration beer with Edinburgh’s Alechemy; and from Alaskan classic Smoked Porter (£12) to the gluten free, organic Celia lager, we’ve a smorgasbord of beery goodness.

    Watch this here space for brew news, new brews and tastings galore…

  • PEPITA'S CHRISTMAS REVOLUCIÓN

    Let me tell you a story. It is my story. It encompasses microwaveable burritos, FIFA-style investigations, plebs at gates, Brangelina and wine. Bienvenida…

    It was three years ago to the day that I first stepped off the Ryanair plane (following another ‘successful Ryanair flight’ as they enthused over the tannoy), after a 12-hour flight from Mexico with a stopover in flipping Málaga. For a small penguin with big dreams, Luton was not what I expected (I can see why they call it Bedfordshire… zzz) Anyway, I said to the cab driver, ‘take me to Kentish Town, I hear this place is full of intellectuals and artists’ and he muttered something that sounded like ‘depends what century you’re living in’. When I arrive at my new ‘gaff’ as he called it I realised what he meant. Also, I thought ‘studio flat’ meant it would be lovely and bohemian but it does not mean that. So, when Christmas came, I was alone and depressed and all I had to eat was a microwaveable burrito. On New Year’s Eve I watched the Hootananny with Jools Holland by myself, with only half a bottle of tequila for company. Lo siento, if I hear the word ‘Hootananny’ one more time I swear I’m going to hurt someone.

    Pepita Banner for Blog

    This is me, Pepita. Brains and beauty, what can I say?

    A couple of months later I was walking around London and wondered into a wine shop. Crikey, the people spoke to me like they were reading an extract from the Holy Book. I didn’t like it. Then I went to the supermarket, but this time there was no one to talk to at all – so I went to the frozen fish section to cheer myself up. Then (I am aware I am sounding like Goldilocks and the three bears) I went to Oddbins in Kentish Town and the man (Ian was his name) has a big smile and says do I want to try this wine from Portugal. And it was at that moment, as our eyes met over a glass of ‘FP Branco’ that we fell instantly in love. Not with each other! I am not like that soppy love-sick Monty the Penguin and, anyway, I don’t go in for that inter-species business, unlike some unmentionable Arctic cousins of mine. There is just no accounting for them. Anyway, over time, I also kind of fell in love with Oddbins – with the wines (eclectic), the people (mad) and the way they don’t do all that smoke and mirrors pricing like “was £12.99 now £5.99” when, in reality, it's not even worth £5.99 (the British people are getting wise to that one). So I asked Ian if I could get a job with Oddbins and he asked me what my ‘skill set’ was. “Ian,” I said, “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I am a penguin. My skill sets are principally eating fish and swimming.” But I could see that they’re not just going to give me a job out of sympathy, so I make a video showing them my wine journey. They rang me up, said they love it and asked me to come back in two years’ time to be The Face of Christmas 2014. I was so happy! I even made Ian point at me like Alan Sugar and say ‘Pepita, you’re hired’.

    Japanese

    My poster for Nikka From the Barrel. Those turkeys are for it.

    I had two years to prepare, so I went on a wine course and worked on my English but, as a smart penguin, I wanted to do more. So, I followed Angelina Jolie around the world. I thought about following Bob Geldof but Angelina manages to look tidy as well as talking about serious things, so I thought she would be a better mentor. I was right – she was fantastic. She took me under her wing, gave me lessons every day and told me I was part of the family. I felt like Oliver Twist. However, it turns out that she has a wildly possessive PA who decided that I am the devil incarnate and paid off the security guard to evict me and dump me at the zoo. (It’s OK – you can cry here).

    It was there and then, outside Los Angeles Zoo, with kids patting me on the head, trying to force-feed me sardines, that I realised I wanted to get back to Dear Old Blighty, have a nice cuppa tea and start my new job. But, when I returned last month, it was not the same country I left. The whole place has gone mad for penguins, because of that cheesy hombre Monty – that was my act! He’s stolen my act! OK I have no proof, but Oddbins think there might be a spy in their marketing department who is giving JL intel, because two years ago they just so happened to run a Christmas ‘Love’ campaign at the same time as Oddbins. So Oddbins have launched an internal investigation and my guess is that the outcome will not be dissimilar to the recent FIFA report if you catch my drift.

    So anyway, Monty has got heart strings twanging everywhere with his search for love. The UK seems to have imported that daft American sentimentality – whatever happened to a stiff upper lip? Tell you what, if Monty comes wondering my way looking for love, I’ll do us all a favour and put him out of his misery. Talking of rubbish American imports, what is Black Friday doing in the UK? Some company bosses must be rubbing their hands with glee – it’s like they’ve managed to secure a frenzied removal team for all the rubbish they couldn’t get rid of.

    Bordeaux

    Best use for bears, if you ask me.

    Dios mío the whole UK is like a big jar of pickles at the moment. One thing I’ve noticed is getting all the politicians worked up is immigration. You’ve got a Labour MP sneering at someone for hanging the St George flag – she should know better than that. Then you’ve got a Conservative-turned-UKIP MP who thinks everybody except the Anglo Saxons should be rounded up and shipped out. Nice. Then you’ve got the Lib Dems who… well I can’t recall their position on immigration. You know what? A plague on all their houses – they’re all as useless as each other. I just hope that they remember that immigration can have a positive effect on the economy. My cousin Carla was trying to explain that to the American officials at immigration and I think it would have gone better for if she hadn’t got angry and called them plebs. But she’s always had a mouth on her. I also hope the politicians realise that penguin migration is a different kettle of fish and we don’t get tangled up in this. Although, if they want to deport Monty, I am here to help.

    Beer

    Christmas with me will be present-filled and magical. Except if you are a pig. Or a bear. Or a turkey.

    Anyway, Ian is now standing over my shoulder and says I should probably step away from politics and tell people what I am going to do this Christmas. Fair point. Good head on his shoulders, Ian. So! I will be hijacking the Oddbins Twitter account (@Oddbins) and I am on the posters (Kate Moss has got NOTHING on me). I have had tête-à-têtes with all the Oddbins Managers and have rounded up the best wines and the best Christmas tips, so I will be dishing those out throughout December. As you’ve guessed, there will be a fair amount of ranting – I haven’t even got started on those blinking bears in my windows – and, lastly, I will be giving out gifts to people who make me laugh (I warn you I am a tough bird to please). Think of me as a kind-hearted, fork-tongued, wine-loving agony aunt.

    I look forward to meeting you.

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