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Food & Wine

  • L.L.A.M.A.

    Oddbins is delighted to announce the arrival of our newest ambassador, Guillermo. Although he is renowned as a hip hop artist, known as ‘L.L.A.M.A.’, his knowledge of wine is exceptional given his extended exposure to viticulture in his home country of Chile. We’re excited that he will be taking an active role, in stores, educating our fantastic staff on some of the new lines we have brought in for the Christmas period. While with Oddbins, Guillermo will be studying for the Llama of Wine (LW) qualification. For those of you unfamiliar with this remit of study, the Llama of Wine is the most challenging industry qualification a domesticated South American camelid can take, comprising of an all-encompassing theory exam and a gruelling 2 hour tasting exam. Guillermo has agreed to keep a diary of his experiences of this study process, we hope you’re looking forward to hearing about the trials and tribulations of his education as much as we are. Welcome to Oddbins, Guillermo and best of luck in your endeavours!

    Guillermo blog 1

    I imagine you’ve just read some Oddbins’ stuff, above right? Telling you how I’m a rap enigma and a sommelier pope. You can ignore all of that, the only person gifted enough to express the nuances of Guillermo’s story, is Guillermo. With that in mind, congratulations on reading my Llama of Wine blog; your reward is experiencing gonzo journalism the likes of which Kerouac would envy.

    For those of you not caught up; I recently escaped the vitriol of Chilean law enforcement on a trumped-up, ‘spit-by’ charge. Absolute sheeet! I mean, my hombre Carlos was totally guilty, but those elephant seals had it coming. So, I came to Oddbins; real hood high street heroes. Only a company that calls it as they see it and doesn’t isolate wine drinkers with esoteric bo****cks could secure the services of a true legend, like Guillermo. The Llama of Wine qualification; you ever heard of that Russian dog Laika, first dog in space? Well imagine that level of significance and difficulty and then times it by ten, that’s what I’m engaged in, wine immortality, that’s what I’m pursuing. It’s simple, I’ve conquered the music industry, now it’s time to conquer the wine world.

    I turned up to the Court of Llamas of Wine a little late for the first day, it ain’t a thing I just taste wine better when I’ve slept till 11. I kicked in the door - I wasn’t particularly angry I just don’t have apposable thumbs to work the knob - 10 camelids turned to face me. “Guillermo, I assume? You are quite late,” the tutor reprimanded. “The Sommelier Pope is never late, he arrives precisely when he means to,” (Gandalf reference, represent my boy in grey) I answered. Life lesson from Guillermo – Never apologise, never explain. “Yes well, please take a seat we’re currently engaging in a horizontal of 2004 Medocs.” I sat down because, well, ya boy loves west bank Bordeauxs. We tried some dope grand crus but for price point you know what stood out? Oddbins newest cru bourgeois they're stocking; Château le Meynieu Haut-Medoc. It was face-meltingly sophisticated fam. Rich blackcurrant, plum and bramble, perfectly harmonising with indicators of age like leather, cigar box and smoked game. Twas boom and at £19 even you non-rap-gods can afford it!

    Ch Meynieu blog

     

    “Good work everyone, let’s break for lunch. Can I ask you all to be back for 2:15 so we can start on Burgundy nice and promptly for the afternoon session?” The tutor announced to us. Most made a move for the door, however, I stayed seated; I was packing my own pino empanadas. I glimpsed a taupe-haired alpaca eye-balling me. I gave it right back, not blinking and spitting in the general direction of my spittoon. He changed direction to approach my desk, flanked by two lighter haired alpacas. “Good day. I am Jeremy Reese-Mongoose the 9th alpaca resident of the Earl of Lytton and you might be?” “Guillermo,” I replied bluntly, not breaking eye contact with Jeremy who was smirking at me. “I would shake hooves but I’m just about to eat and I’d rather not wash your new world slime off me. I doubt I’d be able to get the stench off before supper.” The other alpacas around him roared with laughter, spitting and stamping their hooves.

    Jeremy alpaca blog

    Every llama in Santiago used to come to me to pay respect, Godfather style, and now this short-ass domesticated piece of Hertfordshire is stepping to me, nah Che! This guy is 'más loco que una cabra con pollitos!'. l I stood up to impose my height advantage, “you think you know wine just because you’re wearing a monocle? What couldn’t afford two and make yourself a pair of glasses?” Their laughter stalled as Jeremy sized me up, “and I suppose you know more about wine do you, what did you call yourself? The sommelier Pope?” He drawled while fits of laughter re-erupted around him. “Prove it, beat me in a blind taste off,” Jeremy challenged. I stepped in real close and whispered, “O it’s on Jezza!”

     

    We stood facing one another, 2 glasses between us. Wine was poured from a labelless bottle. “And taste!” I got a big whiff, dark fruit, sweet spice, coffee. Same on the palate, it was super full-bodied with an amazing structure. “2014 Chateauneuf-du-Pape,” I bellowed.

    CNDP Remy Ferbras blog

    I saw Jeremy’s face and I knew I’d fragged this one, “2013 Cote-Rotie” he announced, smugly. “Correct!” The invigilator stated, while holding up the label to prove it. Even Jesus had off days but I wasn’t gonna take this lying down; like a common cow predicting rain. Sure, he’d bested me this time but believe it or not, we have other ways of settling conflict, than wine tasting, in the favelas. I kicked over the table and started swinging my neck, spraying spit everywhere, getting ready to show this posh poncho wanna-be how we throw down in Chile, neck-wrestle style. As I approached a female voice yelped “No!” I turned and was stunned to see the most beautiful llama I had ever seen, a prominent muzzle with perky ears and a round white face like a giant hamster. I started spitting for a different reason… “Wind your neck in, he’s trying to provoke you.” She said bundling me out of the door. Jeremy waved, calling after us “see you later Mo, don’t let the door hit you in your vestigial hump on the way out.”

    It took me a while to calm down but eventually managed to mutter a thank you, “no drama llama,” she replied. “What do I call you?” I enquired. “Lilyanna, Lily the Llama if you like” she responded, seeming a little coy “and you are?” “The rap enigma, that is Guillermo!” She chuckled, obviously digging my vibe. “You’re not like the other llamas I’ve met in the wine industry, who are you representing?” “Oddbins, the greatest wine merchants in the world, the only company worthy of Guillermo ambassadoring them!” She clucked again, “do you want to go share a bottle of Veuve Clicquot NV, they’re on offer at Oddbins at the moment?” “That sounds lovely,” she replied.

    Veuve NV blog

    Relax hombres, nothing happened, we just chilled, drank some dope Champagne and talked about wine yeah … You know what happens when I make my move, updates on my life, same time same place, peace!

  • Chimpanzees and Christmas Giveaways

    Is there anything better than a good giveaway? Suppose it depends on what’s being given away really, if someone’s trying to gift you a pair of used sports socks you’d probably make a polite excuse and carry on with your existence, prize free. Thank goodness, we at Oddbins feel we’ve got customer giveaways right, in fact, we’re getting rather renowned for them. With Christmas fast approaching *gulp* this week we have officially launched our earth-shattering winter promotion… drum roll, please…

    This year we’ve teamed up with Karma Group to send one Oddbins customer and 9 of their friends to the luxury resort Karma Kandara in Bali, for a week! This includes return travel to the resort in Bali and Luxury pool villa accommodation for 10. While in Bali the winner and their 9 guests will enjoy an exclusive wine tasting experience in Bali’s best panoramic wine cellar, with an amazing selection of wines matched with canapés. The winner and their friends will be able to indulge in local delicacies in the comfort of their own villa, hosted by an Executive Chef, who will curate a tailored menu to the guests. Finally, the prize recipients will enjoy exclusive access to a VIP table for an amazing sunset beach party, Ibiza style session, featuring an incredible soundtrack, Tapas and a magnum of Rosé.
    To enter, simply make any purchase with Oddbins in stores or online, there is no limit on the number of entries that can be made but must be in by midnight of the 17th January 2018.

    However, we thought before we look forward, let’s have a peak backwards. Last year, throughout the Christmas period, Oddbins customers had a chance to win a fantastic 2-week trip to Malaysia and Borneo. In September that lucky winner jetted off and fortunately for us, she agreed to write us a blog, to document her amazing experience. Thanks Katy!

    We hope you all enjoy reading about Katy and Brenda’s trip as much as we did and be sure to get your entries in for this year’s giveaway, this time next year we could be telling your winning story!

    Katy Gwilliam – Oddbins customer for many Years.
    "I usually pop into store for wine or Prosecco. My favourite bottle is
    Follador Prosecco Superiore."

    Katy winning

    I couldn’t believe it when I received the phone call from Oddbins to tell me I was the winner of an incredible prize – a two-week holiday in Malaysia and Borneo. Things like this never happen to me! I’m still pinching myself!

    After months of anticipation, the adventure finally began when Brenda (the lucky friend who got to come with me) and I arrived at Heathrow airport on 1 September. We went straight to the Premier Lounge for a glass of champagne before boarding the plane for our 12-hour flight.

    Upon arriving in Kuala Lumpur, we were greeted by our friendly driver who took us to the Traders Hotel. Our room overlooked the Petronas Towers and we had spectacular views of some of the city’s most famous landmarks.

    KatyKL

    We were desperate to sample the local cuisine, so travelled to KL’s famous Jalan Alor street to check out the food markets. The entire street was lined with hawker stall after hawker stall: dumplings, seafood, noodles, barbecued meats, curries, durian – pretty much anything you could imagine. The dishes were not only delicious, but also ridiculously inexpensive, so inexpensive, in fact, that we considered having two dinners! But that would be greedy…

    The next day we ventured to Batu Caves where an enormous statue of the Hindu god of war, Murugan, stood tall at the foot of a steep staircase. We climbed the 272 steps leading into the caves, making sure to keep a tight hold of our bags and phones so they couldn’t be snatched by the monkeys. Once inside, I got the opportunity to feed these cheeky creatures. They made no attempt to put on airs and graces, but they were very cute!

    KatyBC

    The next morning, we flew to Kota Kinabalu in Borneo. Having checked the weather religiously for the past two weeks, I was convinced our entire holiday was going to be rain and storms. Lo and behold, when we touched down at KK airport it was chucking it down! “Oh well – at least we’re in paradise!”, I laughed to Brenda. Almost as quickly as it had started though, the rain stopped and in its wake formed the most breath-taking sunset I’d ever seen. As it turned out, this was to be the weather pattern for the rest of our holiday: blazing hot sunshine in the morning, a quick shower in the afternoon, and stunning sunsets in the evenings. The perfect tropical paradise.

    KatySuns

    We were driven to the amazing hotel that was to be our home for the next three nights: the 5* Shangri-La Rasa Ria resort. This place was heavenly! The people were so friendly and nothing seemed like too much trouble. The food was exquisite and every morning we were presented with the biggest buffet you can imagine – cuisine from all corners of the globe. I didn’t let a day pass without having both a prawn cracker and a chocolate-covered marshmallow, simply because I could!

    Our stay at the Rasa Ria was the perfect time to relax and make the most of the sea, sand and sun. The hotel had its own private beach, which offered a host of water sports and activities. One day we decided to try out the parasailing, which was brilliant fun as we floated 100ft above the boat, taking in the view of Mount Kinabalu in the distance.

    KatyPara

    During our stay, we managed to clock up five massages between us, all of which were divine! We sampled the food at all five of the resort’s fantastic restaurants, even experiencing a fire-eating show at the Malaysian banquet on one night.

    After a few days of chilling, it was time to visit the jungle. We flew from Kota Kinabalu airport to Sandakan, where we were transported to the MY Nature Resort – an eco-friendly resort located in one of the oldest tropical rainforests in the world.

    Here we watched flying squirrels jump from tree to tree as it grew dark and enjoyed some of the local delicacies before bed. The next morning, bright and early, we set off for the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Sepilok. We arrived just in time to see the babies being fed, which was highly entertaining. It was easy to identify the bully of the group – he swung audaciously from pillar to post, grabbing fruit from the other orangutans who dared to get in his way! They were so funny to watch as they play fought and hung upside down from the monkey bars.

    KatyAnimals

    As we moved through the centre, we were also lucky enough to see pygmy elephants – baby-faced elephants that are far smaller than their fully-grown counterparts, with oversized ears and plump bellies. The sun bears also came out to play. These cute creatures are the smallest bears in the world at around 120cm in height and are classified as ‘Vulnerable’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

    Later that day, we caught a boat to our next destination: Abai Jungle Lodge. Here our brilliant guide, Abbas, took us on a river boat trip to explore the local wildlife. The highlight of this trip was seeing a mummy and baby orangutan in the wild – a really rare sight, considering they are highly endangered and there are only around 50,000 left in the world. The Proboscis monkeys were also a great spot. They are famous for their big noses – the bigger the nose, the more attractive the male! After a brilliant couple of days in the jungle, we travelled back to the Shangri-La for the final leg of our trip. Arriving at the resort was like coming home! We made the most of our chill-out time here, with massages, sun-bathing and tons of food and we even managed a night out on the waterfront in Kota Kinabalu, which ended with a dance-off against the locals in the town’s famous 999 club!

    KatyRiver

    Before we knew it, the time had come to fly home. After a teary farewell and goodbye photo, we jumped in the taxi back to KK airport and prepared ourselves for the 18-hour journey back to London.

    All in all, it was a truly fantastic trip with so many special memories and amazing experiences. I cannot recommend Borneo enough and have been waxing lyrical about my brilliant holiday to anyone who will listen! Thank you so much to Oddbins for making this happen. I couldn’t have asked for a better prize :)

  • Chimps Tea Party

    The door looks like it could lead into any pantry. And it does, sort of. A few square feet of crockery, cutlery, non-perishable foods, general kitchen clutter pushed out of the way into one small room. But what's down that little winding staircase at the end? Darkness, perhaps danger, a world of adventure? As our eyes adjust, we can make out wood, glass, a stillness perhaps eternally undisturbed, a sense that the place can get on quietly with its work without our help. As our ears attune to subliminal Gregorian chant, we fumble around the wall until we find an ancient Bakelite switch, and...

    Snazzy-Banner

    ...welcome to Snazzy's wine cellar! The chant gives way to the Ronettes singing Sleigh Ride, and strings of flashing Christmas lights adorn row upon row, rack upon rack of wines, a bottle encyclopedia of every vinous fascination, a cornucopia of Dionysian ecstasy! And certain gaps suggest that Snazzy is at home, dot dot dot...

    A chimp's tea party is a different thing altogether when Snazzy is hosting it. His guests are nonplussed, having brought along bananas, party blowers, a great many custard pies and even some tea. Instead, Snazzy has laid on some of their favourite wines from their time at Oddbins and they are swirling, sniffing and slurping. And these are truly fabulous wines. While they have all tried any number of wonders from Oddbins' glittering range, Snazzy has gone for the ones we'd normally save for a special occasion. Like a Christmas gathering!

    Notorious-Banner

    Notorious is enthused by a bottle of Gaja Dragomis Barolo"What I like about a good Barolo is that it will age for 20 years, even more, but if you open it now and let it breathe for a good while, it still delivers a profoundly rewarding wine experience. Oh my soul, herbs, spices, berries all coming together on the palate to give you what amounts to a delicatessen in a bottle. Made from the Nebbiolo grape, by the way, which is so named from the Nebbia, an October mist which used to herald the beginning of the harvest. They're rather more scientific nowadays." The other chimps are impressed by Notorious' fondness, unaware that his knowledge stems from time spent with a protective Sicilian family who had looked after him during a couple of, let's say, sensitive months.

    Barolo

    Crazy is enamoured of the Man O' War Dreadnought Syrah"This is from a world class winery, this is, 150 acres over a big spread of plots on Waiheke Island in Auckland Bay. Some of the steepest land in the area, giving the grapes a whole load of sunshine but with a cool breeze from the sea so they don't get too ripe and lose their unique character. Another savoury, Christmas dinner-type wine, with a blueberry and pepper vibe, stylistically not too far from a Northern Rhône masterpiece." What Crazy doesn't tell them is that he was drawn to the wine because "Dreadnought" sounded like his unstoppable approach to his social life.

    Dreadnought

    Snazzy himself is absorbed by a Chardonnay, World's End "Rebel Rebel" from California's Napa Valley. During the afternoon he has been asked once or twice how he funds his lavish lifestyle, breezily replying "oh, friends in high places, you know. And a couple on low places, just in case...". Right now, however, he is utterly consumed. "Now here's a winemaker for you," he announces to the diminishing attention of his friends. "Jonathan Maltus, played a big part in the Garagiste movement of the 1990's. Hugely impressive CV - Château Teyssier in Saint-Emilion, where you can also find his benchmark wine 'Le Dome', and now this." His eyes screw shut in a growing transport of vinous delight. "So complex yet so vibrant, pineapple and even pear drops on the nose, a crisp palate with the merest smidgen of oak, and that finish, it's still going on, it's, it's..." 

    Rebel

    He looks to the end of the table for approval and elaboration, an appropriate end to his rhapsody. "S'alright, I s'pose," concludes Outspoken. Snazzy looks at him as his face crumbles with disappointment. As his friends try to suppress their laughter, a custard pie hits him on the back of the head. Turning, unwisely, to see where it came from, two more hit him on either side of his face. The table falls into screeching, party blower uproar as Loveable pours a pot of cold tea down the front of Snazzy's trousers, and as he tries to back off he falls over a banana skin.

    Chimpmas has arrived.

  • PIMP MY PUMPKIN

    What can’t pumpkins do? They fend off evil spirits, you can make pumpkin pie, soup, bread, curry and… well, pretty much anything out of them! Country types even have festivals in their honour (evidence below for doubting city folk). Scoop out the pips and bake them and you’ve even got yourself a tasty snack (as sugar and Peperamis are apparently off the list). So, unless Jamie Oliver and the World Health Organisation discover that pumpkins have been conning us all this time about fending off evil and they are the ones that are evil, have a peep at these pimped up pumpkin pairings…

    Halloween DoliaInstead of carving a dastardly expression onto your pumpkin, why not make bread?! Warming and satisfying, there is nothing lovelier than the smell than freshly-baked pumpkin bread wafting through the house. Actually, maybe there is something lovelier: serving it with a doorstop of nutty comté and a glass of a sassily fruity, pert red such as Dolia Merlot. It may not be so effective as a Jack o’ Lantern at handling ghouls but at least you could try to pacify them with cheese.

    Pumpkin soup is classic autumnal fare but, combined with fresh ginger, pear nectar, chilli satay sauce, can create a surprisingly fresh, summery dish. However, when it comes to pairing drinks with soup, many people tend to freak out – “liquid with liquid? How’s that going to work? Isn’t there a law against that?” Well, *waggles finger in front of face* we’re here to tell you that there ain’t no po-po gonna stop y’all – if you want to put Asian-style pumpkin soup with wine, you go girlfriend. Indeed, the zingy, floral and even slighty spicy Pora Py'a Torrontes, from Argentina, is a match made in heaven...

    Halloween Amaretto Rum

    ... speaking of which, you can also make stella desserts like yours truly's above (we’re nothing if not talented… and modest). Whipped up with maple syrup, cream, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg and baked in a buttery pastry, pumpkin transforms from, well, a pumpkin into a princess. But every princess needs a prince charming to dance with at the ball and we have two to choose from: Sette Vie Amaretto and Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva Rum. Both are on tasting in all stores this weekend and both are suitable suitors. Sette Vie brings dashing almond nuttiness, while Diplomatico brings handsome orange peel and liquorice – and both have a very happy ending.

    Take that, demons.

  • THE PALATE 2014

    The Year of Men, Festivals and Red Trousers

    As he stepped away from the lectern, grinning from ear to ear, Steve Saunders – AKA The Palate 2014 – burst out "s**t, I’ve won a trip to Australia too!" Wine tasting isn't known for being overly emotional, but the fact that Steve was so overcome by winning The Palate title that he forgot all about the holiday, was pretty moving. Practically the only reason we didn’t cry with joy is because we happened to glance at our Managing Director’s trousers, which, as you can see, are very, very red.

    1 L-R Oddbins' Managing Director Ayo and his Trousers; The Palate 2014, Steve Saunders; and The Palate MC, Dave

    Steve has fought off (not physically; he’s a nice guy) over 21,000 hopefuls to win The Palate – our five-month long, wine-stained search to find the nation’s finest amateur wine taster.

    The fact that Steve, a dad-to-be from Bristol, has won is nice for a number of reasons. We’ll number them, because we’re cool like that: 1) He has been considering a career change into the wine industry, so this means a lot to him, 2) He is a man* 3) He did soooooooo much ‘homework’ (yes that means drinking tasting as well as reading) in preparation for The Final and 4) He is really lovely.

    *We aren’t sexist/weird, promise – we’re excited that Steve is a man because The Palate has been won by women for the past two years…

    Steve in full flow at The Final, presenting his food and wine match. Steve in full flow at The Final, presenting his food and wine match

     

    But what set him apart? What swayed the judges’ decision? Well, it was "a combination of incredibly high scores in the written tests and his brilliant presentation style, which was fresh, accurate and from the heart" according to Head Judge and Oddbins Buyer, Ana Sapungiu.

    Having taken in the abundance of prizes he’s won (a luxury holiday for two to Australia, the opportunity to choose a wine for Oddbins’ shelves, a magnum of Laurent-Pérrier Champagne and an engraved decanter), Steve graciously said: “I really had no idea how I’d do – there was such a range of people at the Final – all ages, from all over the country, with different levels of interest in and knowledge of wine.”

    “The Palate has been brilliant. For me, it has really broken down barriers and put a fresh spin on wine tasting."

    To re-cap, in case you’ve missed some of the back story, The Palate kicked off three years ago. 5,000 people took part and it produced a very shocked and humble winner in Fran Evans, from Crouch End. We ramped things up in 2013, with double the number of entrants, and a sassy winner in Chloe Dickson and, now here we stand with over 21, 0000 entrants. Many of these entered in our shops, but, for the first time, thousands entered at Taste of London Festival, The Cheltenham Food and Drink Festival, Northcote Road Fête, as well as farmers markets nationwide. The thinking? To bring competitive wine tasting to you. We want more people to realise, frankly, how easy it is, and to get stuck in.

    Judges Sarah Ahmed, Peter Ricahrds MW, Susie Barrie MW and Ana Sapungiu Judges Sarah Ahmed, Peter Ricahrds MW, Susie Barrie MW and Ana Sapungiu

     

    The process of getting from 21,000 to one winner is not easy, but it went something like this: there were two rounds of blind tastings, with progressively tricky questions about the wines. Just 64 people were left standing for the Semi Final Boot Camps, with four groups of 16, each with their own mentor who would later be a judge at the Final. Newcomer Sarah Ahmed was a fantastic, dynamic mentor, getting into her stride as ‘Tiger Mum’. The mentors’ approaches varied dramatically and they did their best to build their group’s knowledge and tasting skills, before picking four to go forward to be one of the 16 Finalists. As well as wanting to help the Semi Finalists, the fiercely competitive judges each wanted someone from their team to win The Palate, so that was an added incentive to train their mentees to the best of their abilities.

    Held at a swanky pants venue in Bloomsbury Square last Saturday, September 6, the Final was intense, to say the least. Judges Sarah Ahmed, a leading wine writer; wine power couple and MWs Susie Barrie and Peter Richards; and Oddbins Buyer Ana Sapungiu oversaw various challenges, including food and wine matching, blind tastings, oral presentations and a sparkling wine exam. Ranging from toe-curlingly nervous to quietly confident, it was great to see such a range of Finalists. They had varied experience, from beginners to wine tasting enthusiasts, came from far and wide – from Glasgow, Bristol, Brighton, London and Winchester – and ranged in age from 30 to 60.

    4 The Finalists, and Peter Richards MW, a-thinking and a-slurping

    All of which pleases us greatly, because there’s one reason why we do The Palate: to show that wine tasting is not an elite activity – it’s fun and anybody can do it. Anyway, we could wax lyrical about the whys and wherefores, but we’ll skip to the fun bits…

    Peter, who was Steve’s Boot Camp mentor, recited some original, wine-based poetry, while his wife and co-judge Susie busted out some Spice Girls songs. We ain’t kidding. In his blog, Peter attributes this to people’s "hunger to win… which pushed [us into it]" Well, we don’t know if it was the poetry what dunnit but Peter managed to produce a winner in Steve this year, which he was particularly pleased with as Susie has produced winners for the past two years. So, this year, Peter was (mentally) fist-punching the air to have a boy win. Peter said: “It felt sweet to have a boy win! No, of course it doesn’t matter really. The important thing is just giving people confidence. I would say, in that respect, women tend to be less sure than men so, jokes aside, it has been great to see women win The Palate so far and to see their confidence grow and grow.”

    Then there was the dramatic re-count during the eliminations, in which the judges decided to go back and look again at the score of Sue Bennett, who was then put through to the final part of the day. Sue, an Occupational Therapist from Balham, ended up coming second and winning a long weekend in Veneto, Italy, as well as a magnum of Amarone, courtesy of Tenuta Chiccheri.

    Runner-up Sue Bennetts, with her magnum of Amarone from Tenuta Chiccheri Runner-up Sue Bennett, with her magnum of Amarone from Tenuta Chiccheri

     

    Sue, who was under Susie’s tuneful tutelage at the Boot Camp, said: “It was such an amazing day – quite extraordinary. I tried to go in with an open mind and just enjoy the experience – I wasn’t expecting to go far at all, so to come second is incredible. I think I have grown over the course of The Palate.

    “But there isn’t really a right or a wrong with wine – it’s just about showing that you can appreciate the different elements involved, using a certain amount of rationale and creativity – and it’s good that the judging reflected that. Susie’s Boot Camp training definitely helped us to develop in that respect.”

    Sue was followed closely by Laura Martz, from Brighton, and Robert Macaloney, from Glasgow, who were each awarded £300 to spend at Oddbins for winning ‘Most Impressive Performance’. Mark Walker, from Chiswick, received the ‘Most Likely to Grow Further’ prize, winning a novice-professional training course courtesy of the Wine and Spirit Educational Trust (WSET).

    But, aside from the wine tasting, emotional ups and downs and dastardly challenges, there was one thing that really brought everyone together… and that was Ayo’s trousers. Let’s have another look:

    The Red Trousers. And Ayo. The Red Trousers. And Ayo.

    Known in the company for his ‘bold’ fashion choices, Ayo divides opinion. Some welcome the cheerful trousers and devil-may-care attitude to colour coordination, others do not. In his defence, Ayo said: “There’s nothing wrong with red trousers. Can we get back to The Palate please?! My trousers may be bold, but that’s as nothing compared to the effort put in by the Finalists this year.” Smooth segue, Ayo… Anyway, Odd Blogger has no intention of committing career suicide, so instead we’ll hand it over to you, reader, to settle the issue in the comments box below… as he can’t fire you.

    On a safer note, we’ll leave you with a final word from returning Finalist Charlotte Cobb, who wrote to us after the Final, saying: “I learnt so much – last year I wouldn't have been able to name a single grape variety, but this year I felt far more confident. I'm not stopping – I'm going to keep learning, keep going to tastings and do everything to better myself!”

    The mum-of-three, who suffered from a migraine on the day but battled through it anyway, said: “Without The Palate I would never have had the spark to try my hand at this; I would have felt far too dumb and, not being a working woman, I would have felt very out of my depth with all the fantastic contestants you get on The Palate.”

    Well, Charlotte, everybody is capable, you were great and you can do it – go for it!

    This post was written while drinking: Bichot Crémant de Bourgogne Reserve Privée NV. This was a naughty one to put in the sparkling wine exam. Why? It practically passes for Champagne and even our Palate winner, Steve, was gobsmacked to discover that it's from the neighbouring region, Burgundy, and is a lowly £17.50. With a copper and gold-inflected hue, it is unctuous and toasty, with an underpinning crisp acidity.

  • ART, USAIN BOLT AND THE FICKLENESS OF VALUE

    1 August, 2014

    Value is a fickle thing. If spotted on the arm of a Middleton sister, the price of a seemingly bland handbag can skyrocket faster than Usain Bolt leaving Glasgow after calling the Commonwealth Games ‘a bit s**t’, while house prices in Lancashire drop as quickly as you can say ‘fracking is dangerous and dirty’. Salvador Dalí was a master at manipulating value and, after taking friends out to dinner, would often do a sketch on the back of the cheque, pretty much safe in the knowledge that it wouldn’t be cashed as it was more valuable to them as a ‘Dalí original’. Our point? Value is what you perceive it to be. So, without wanting to do a Dalí and inflate opinion and therefore price, we’d like to show some appreciation to that unjustly under-valued sparkler; Cava.
    Cava is a prince among men. It is the only sparkling wine that, by law, has to be made the same way as Champagne. This ‘traditional’ method, which involves a second fermentation in the bottle, pretty much guarantees extra depth of character and finer bubbles. So why the blazes the prices aren’t higher, we know not. In this context, Cavas like Anna de Codorníu (£10.50) begin to look darn hot. The Codorníu family were the first Spaniards to use the traditional method and are something of experts at it; Anna de Codorníu, for example, is exceedingly Champagne-like, with a soft, well-balanced and refreshing palate, elegant citrus notes and fine, persistent bubbles. So, think of Cava like an eccentric aristocrat that runs around in a battered old Mini, giving no indication that they’re actually Lord Asquith Wellington Montagu the Second, tenant of Walsingham Court and owner of half of England.
    Now. All this is at odds with the fact that that Spanish food staple, tapas, is often hideously over-priced. We’ve seen grown men break down in anguished sobs, screaming “but it’s a street foooooood” when they see menus listing tapas at £8 per dish. That ain’t pretty. So, whaddaya do? You have a P-A-R-T-why? Because tapas, particularly seafood tapas, pairs brilliantly with Cava and, together, they can make for a great fiesta, for not a lot of pesetas (sorry, euros). Crispy calamari with garlic mayonnaise, for example, is a match made in heaven for Cava Renaixenca Brut (£11). Pronounced ‘rennay-shen-sha’, this is a Catalan set-up that has been in the Pons family for 250 years and, today, Joan and Pere Pons embrace both tradition and modern technology to great effect. This Brut Non Vintage has a gently playful fizz, subtle creamy notes from the 20 months spent ageing on its ‘lees’ (used yeast), combining with a gorgeously cool, thirst-quenching rush of green fruit.
    For the next six weeks, Oddbins will be looking at the Art of Wine. For it is made by skilled craftsmen who must balance a number of elements and its aim is to stimulate the senses; who says it isn’t art? If a load of bricks on the floor of Tate Modern – or ‘Equivalent VIII’ by Carl Andre to give it its proper title – constitutes art, then we’re darn sure our next Cava does. Shimmering gold, with copper reflections and exquisitely fine bubbles, we’d go so far to say that Torre Oria Reserva (£9.50) is the Gustav Klimt of the wine world. *Rubbing our hands and warming to our theme* which would make the gentle brush strokes of Anna de Codorníu a Claude Monet and the playful, cool Cava Renaixenca an Alexander Calder mobile. Excellent. Wine is so much easier than art. But what do you think? Finish the statement “Wine is easier than art because” on Twitter, using the hashtag #WineVsArt, to win a bottle of Champagne.

    And not one ear was cut off in the writing of this email – there’s one reason wine is easier than art for a start…

    ‘Til next time.

  • BEANS ON TOAST AND THE POLITICAL CLASS

    23 May, 2014

    This week, we have mostly been feeling surprised. Surprised and delighted to discover that Sangiovese goes brilliantly with beans on toast; surprised and mildly annoyed that our brewers have better hair than us (see below); and surprised at people’s surprise at UKIP’s rags to riches story. When you’re stuck with a political class that is hiding in the safety of mediocrity, scared to say boo to a goose, a man with a plan and a gob to go with it starts looking strangely So, although we take no stock in UKIP, they have inspired us to put our fingers up to the middle-ground and offer up a few surprises of our own…

    Morrissey-Oddnews-Blog

    …Not in a Morrissey way, you’ll be relieved to hear. No, our first two surprises are Italian white wines. We’ll tell you for why: Italian reds have a superb reputation, conjuring thoughts of Chianti and Barolo and innovative ‘IGT’ de-classified bargains. Italian whites tend to conjure images of Pinot Grigio. Not to bely this grape’s capacity for charm, but, if we’re talking in terms of Miliband brothers, Italian white has a reputation that is definitely more Ed than Dave. So, today, we turn firstly to Tannu (£8.50), an organic white from the western coast of Sicily which shows another side to bell’Italia. Made with the indigenous Grillo grape and topped up with 30% Chardonnay, it has all the zing of a lemon drizzle cake, with the gleefully bone-dry charm of Jack Dee.

    Pehhcora pecorino wine oddbins

    For our second stereotype-smashing Italian white, we head up the mainland coast to Abruzzo. It is here that we find Pehhcora (web exclusive, £8.75), which is made from the Pecorino grape (not from Pecorino cheese – it’s not that out there). All peaches and mangoes, with bold spices, cleansing minerals and a dreamy, creamy palate, it’s more akin to Austrian Grüner Veltliner than many Italian whites. If you were hungry for a Conservative party-based analogy, you could say that mass-produced Pinot Grigio is like our PR-rich, substance-poor PM, David Cameron, while Pehhcora would be the equivalent of the substance-rich, PR-poor Ken Clarke. Anyway, perhaps this talk of traversing the Italian coastline is leaving you resentful of the glowing box in front of you and the cursedly fickle weather. Perhaps, we’ll wager, you’re thinking of using some of that holiday allowance…

    The Listing at Oddbins

     

  • INNOVATION, MADNESS AND BEER

    Experimentation. It takes you to places that ordinarily you wouldn't go to. It reveals new perspectives and possibilities. It requires leaps of faith and a devil-may-care attitude towards tradition. And where does all this get you? Well, in some instances, not very far. The Automatic Smoking Machine, invented by the Victorians to recreate that special odour of a busy bar at home, was arguably not a leap of faith worth making. But in other instances, it can lead to innovations that markedly improve on life as we know it. It is with this in mind that we explore three innovative products and salute the experimental spirit and all its attendant insanity.
    Firstly, we turn to an innovation from Oxford. We're not referring to Penicillin (invented at Oxford University in 1939), but to Oddbins No.2 (£2.65), our new collaborative beer with Compass Brewery. Whether or not history judges it to be as important as Penicillin, only time will tell. But we can guarantee that it tastes better than mould in a Petri dish. No, wait! We’re under-selling here. Let us start again: it’s a malt-based ale, in the German ‘Kölsch’ style brewed, unusually, with a portion of smoked malt, bringing a gentle smoky complexity to the mix. The upshot is a bright gold beer with gentle aromas of citrus and hay. It has a very approachable palate, with yeasty, bready notes, a lovely earthiness and a gentle whiff of smoke. Following the dizzy excitement of this discovery, we spun around in our lab coats to cast our eyes over our Beer Buying department. What have we done? We’re offering you the chance to help us choose beers to list. So if you have a love of beer and want to be paid in beer, to taste beer, then please apply on Twitter, using #OddbinsBeer. It might just be the best job in the world.
    For the second innovation, *offers up hands to be cuffed by police*, we have to commit a crime. A crime against tradition that is! (We’re here all day, folks). Yes we are going against hundreds of years of history and are now stocking – wait for it – a sparkling wine in a screw cap! No doubt to the despair of half of France, we now stock the beautiful, fresh-as-a-daisy Willowglen Brut NV (£10) from South East Australia. Sealed with a screw cap, the Italian-Australian makers just didn’t feel the need to have a cork. Screw caps are easier and generally less fuss. And Australians don’t do fuss. Anyway, after you’ve twisted the top off you’ll love discover a blissful blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (a French tradition that they have kept), with pure, clean apple-y flavours served up on a lightly creamy palate.
    Lastly we turn to an existing innovation that produces a drink so ephemeral and delicate that you could reasonably assume it was made by a fairy at the bottom of the garden. We speak of Tio Pepe Fino En Rama (£16), which is a dry, unrefined Sherry taken from the middle of a wooden cask during spring, when the protective blanket of ‘flor’ is at its thickest. Flor - the naturally occurring crust that forms on Sherry whilst it’s ageing in the Solera casks – is what gives dry Sherry its iodine-like, salty twang. With En Rama Sherry, those flavours are more pronounced and have a limited shelf-life so, to taste it at its best, it should be consumed (assuming the sun’s past the yardarm as you read this) right about… now.Toodles.
  • KATE BUSH, THE QUEEN AND OTHER CLEVER BIRDS

    It’s spring: Mother Nature is returning to her most creative phase, producing daffies, lambs and chocolate (or do Green & Black’s make chocolate?); Croydon’s finest, Kate Bush, is returning to the stage like the sun to Narnia after a 30 year hiatus; and The International ‘Bloomin’ Eck is Mothers’ Day This Sunday?*’ Day is upon us. Yes, really! So read on and find out what the people who understand Mums best (that’s us, not Loose Women) recommend for these Givers of Life…
    This is the refrain, sung over and over again by Kate Bush in a song about her son Bertie and is not, we’ll sacrilegiously offer, one of her finest moments. Very often, something happens to women when they have children that interferes with self-censorship, leading to very vocal enthusiasm for their offspring. So say thanks to your Mum for probably embarrassing herself for at least five years, enthusing about YOU – yes you! – with a beautiful, rarefied Champagne. Henriot Rosé NV (£46) was recently described by The Times’ Jane MacQuitty as having a ‘bright, lemony scent and [a] long, creamy, spicy finish’. It’s also in limited supply, so fill your boots quickly. Anyway, if you are a Mum, particularly with a child around seven years old, you may want to cover your eyes now because…
    Yup, according to boffins, the reasoning faculties of young humanoids matches that of ‘Caledonian crows’ (that doesn’t just mean ‘crows in Scotland’). But (dignity slightly wounded) we invite you to join us in pretending not to have heard that. Instead, let’s remind ourselves how classy, beautiful and intelligent we are… So classy, that we drink delicious things like Crôzes-Hermitage ‘La Tuilière’ and say highly witty things like “you could say it’s a Crows-Hermitage”. Though, what everyone doesn’t know, is that this brilliant, gently spiced classic is currently down to £12.50 from £14.50. We can celebrate our classiness by attending the highly cultural events like the Meltdown Festival though, if you happen to win the tickets, we won’t mention you got them free simply by subscribing to Odd News… Which leads us ever-so elegantly on to the ‘Royal We’…
    The Queen is a Mum who, it’s fair to say, has put up with a lot. The above quotes from her ever loyal, gaffe-prone other half, were the most quotable of the book – we repeat, book – written about his Royal bloopers. Well, every family has one and, if your ‘Prince Phillip’ happens to be visiting this Easter, you can get a wine that's smooth, even if they aren't… Latria Montsant is a cracking alternative to Rioja with lamb (more food matches from Oddbins’ Buyer Ana in Fine Foodies Magazine (page 33), and is one of the most unctuous, silky, juicy wines around. And – shhhh – it’s only £9.50. Mum’s the word.Toodles.

  • AND THE AWARD FOR THE WORST SPEECH GOS TO...

    Award acceptance speeches can be tricky. Alex Turner, the cheeky little Arctic Monkey, exemplified this in a rambling, bitter and frankly hilarious diatribe on rock ‘n’ roll when collecting Best British Group award at The Brits recently. What people say at awards ceremonies is often very telling: Alex Turner is clearly frustrated; some people have extraordinary egos; some are plain confused. It is with this in mind that we look at some of the winners and losers of the wine world – starting, modestly, with ourselves.

    On Wednesday evening, we were delighted to receive the Specialist Chain Award for our Portuguese wine range, from the Association of Portuguese Wine Importers. So now we’re all here, gathered together at our computers/iPads/phones, we’re going to make an acceptance speech of the tearful, ‘thanking gazillions of people’ ilk. But don’t worry, we’re not naming individuals; we’re naming a single group: you, our customers. We can line our shelves with all the Portuguese wine in the world, but there ain’t no point unless people actually buy the stuff. And you have! You’ve embraced the unpronounceable grape varieties and the unknown wine regions with open arms. One wine that you particularly love is also beloved of the press. Hamish Anderson, in The Telegraph, recently said of Quinta dos Roques (£12.25), that ‘although [it’s] their ‘entry-level’ bottling, it delivers plenty: rich brambly fruit, leather and black pepper. Its grip of tannin is best served alongside hearty food – steak or a rich stew’. Hamish, we agree. Keep spreading the Portuguese word and maybe we’ll retain this title for a third year running. But for now, *wiping tears from our blotchy red face*, thank you, customers. This one’s for you.

    One country that you don’t hear much about in the wine world is Romania. They haven’t quite nailed the Alistair Campbell school of PR, but what they have nailed is stylish, cracking value wine. If they were to make an acceptance speech, it would most likely be humble, self-effacing and quick. So we’d like to step up to the platform and make a bit of noise on their behalf, principally about Frunza Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio. These wines come in at £6.50, arrive dressed in very modest, yet chic labels, and they are fantastic. We’ve never tasted Pinot Noir so good under £7; it’s soft, it’s moreish and bursting with berry goodness. And the can easily compete with Pinot Grigios twice the price. So down with humility! Down with self-effacement – this stuff is brilliant and we hereby crown Frunza the One of the Most Excellent Wineries, Like, Ever.

    And lastly, as we’re getting a little tired and emotional, we’ll hand over to Dan, the Manager at Oddbins Chorlton, which held its own Win(e)ter Olympics (see what we did there?) last week…
    “Dan here! Throughout the last few weeks me and the gang have been re-tasting rather lovely tipples left, right and centre, in our quest to crown the ultimate bargain of bargains on our shelves. Without further ado, here are some highlights: Best Bargain Red goes to Paseo Red (£5.75), from Portugal, A.K.A. ‘The one with the bike on it’. Our little Portuguese friend here is seriously good value and seriously quaffable; Best Bargain Fine Wine goes to Filipa Pato FP Branco (£11.75), from Portugal. We finish on an absolute stonker here: featured in February's edition of Decanter Magazine, it was named as their ‘Must Try White’ in their ‘20 Great Wines Under £25’, scoring a whopping 94/100. A pear, white fruit and mineral affair that just begs for simple, fresh seafood.”

    Before we go, we have to thank our Mum. Mum – we love you.

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