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Oddbins Wine Merchants

  • COME AND HAVE A GOVE IF YOU THINK A-LEVELS ARE HARD ENOUGH

    Predictions for the upcoming A-Level results…

    On Thursday 15 August hundreds of thousands of young adults will receive their A-Level exam results (sorry Scotland, we know you’ve already had yours, but keep reading as this still includes you). This is a stressful day for students across the land. Although we wish all these students the best of luck, for they are the future, it is the teachers that our thoughts go out to, because after the hard slog, anguish, nail-biting and hair-rending, there are only really three possible outcomes and all three seem to have an inevitably similar result…

    A-Level Result Day

    Outcome 1: the students do well. The beautiful ones with 4A*s, perfect shiny teeth, glossy hair and flawless complexions will be plastered across the front pages of our newspapers, leaping for joy, results in hand. Those who aren’t blonde and nubile will probably be ignored by the press, irrespective of their grades. Come to think of it, has anyone pointed out what impact this might have on teenage image anxiety?

    Sorry, we digress. Beneath the pictures of the perfect students will be articles saying that exams have never been so easy and berating teachers for, heaven forbid, teaching the students what they need to know to pass their exams. These articles not only belittle the efforts of the students, but also those of the teachers who have supported and inspired them. Reading on, the articles will continue to kick the education system and the high achieving students who chose to continue their studies, by saying that university teaching is woefully inadequate and that there are no prospects for graduates at the end of it all anyway. Who knows, maybe Ofqual will even tell us that the exams were “graded generously”. Happy days.

    Outcome 2: the students do OK. Ofsted will announce that OK isn’t good enough, schools “require improvement” and promptly move the goal posts again. It is still the teachers’ fault. Smiley face.

    Outcome 3: the students don’t do so well. Run for the trees dear teachers before the wrath of Michael Gove and the press comes showering down upon you in something akin to the start of Flash Gordon. And before we’re accused of being mean to Michael Gove, we aren’t, he just happens to be the incumbent and is therefore highly likely to continue in the same vain as his predecessors (Balls, Johnson, Kelly, Clarke, Morris, Blunkett…). #Yay

    A-Levels Guys Trimmed

    Oddbins thinks that it's rubbish that teachers always take the flak, whatever the outcome. To all those who say that exams are so much easier than they were in their day, we say: horses**t. If that rationale were true, it would mean that those who have been running this country for the past 15 years (please note this includes all the major political parties) took harder exams and therefore following this lopsided logic are better educated. So why have these “clever clogs” made such a mess of the Economy, NHS, Banking, International Relations, their expenses, etc.? Exams have changed because the world has changed.

    What hasn’t changed is that teachers are still inspiring students and those inspired students are going on to achieve things that we could never dream of. Teachers are a critical part of our society, they are the buttress that holds us up, even though they seem to have become more of a scapegoat-shaped piñata for politicians of every hue. We may not have liked all our teachers, but we haven’t forgotten how they inspired us and moulded our lives. So Oddbins would like to say THANK YOU TEACHERS…

    We have ten cases of wine to give away to ten inspirational teachers. If you are 18 or over and you’ve had or have an inspirational teacher, then pop their name, the name of the school or university they teach at, when you attended that school or university and a brief explanation of why you found them so inspirational in an email to us at inspire@oddbins.com. We will publish the best right here on our blog and send a case of wine directly to each of the teachers that we deem to be the most inspiring.

    So without further ado, it just leaves us to wish everybody involved with A-Level results day the very best of luck. We have our fingers crossed for you. And teachers: Oddbins is on your side. (TO)

    Quinta dos Roques

    This post was written while drinking: Quinta dos Roques. This hefty red was made by a former maths teacher. We wouldn’t like to speculate with regards to what inspired him to quit teaching, but if this is what a  disillusioned teacher can do with a handful of grapes, imagine what could be achieved if we all offer them our support. We give it an A*.

  • BOTTLE POETRY

    Robert Louis Stevenson famously observed that “wine is bottled poetry”. Inspired by this thinking, for this week’s Oddnews we are adopting a little poetic off-licence…
    This year, Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy has described cuts in art funding as being “totally barbaric” and has warned that we could end up with a “country full of Tescos and not theatres.” Now there isn’t much a wine merchant like Oddbins can do to help the arts, but there is one inspiring thing we have in abundance: WINE. So we popped a couple of corks for a group of North London poets, who then penned a few odes to wine (which were luckily shorter and less raunchy than Pablo Neruda’s Ode to Wine). The results can be seen on the posters hanging in our windows or you can read them in our new blog post. Don’t worry if poetry isn’t your thing, we aren’t going to start talking in rhyming couplets or five beat rhythms (iambic pentameters – yes, we’ve done our research), but you might see the odd limerick, song lyric or verse popping up in our shops. However, if poetry is your thing and you feel inspired to put pen to paper, then pop them in the comments section of our blog, or if they are short tweet us using the hashtag #bottledpoetry. We don’t care how quick, childish or foolish, we think lurking inside you is a poet, even if you don’t realise (or should that be "know it"?).
    That’s a haiku, that is. A haiku is a short Japanese poem of 17 syllables in three phases of 5, 7 and 5 (the one above doesn’t quite fit that structure as we think it's been translated). To illustrate the technique, we've written the following little whisky-inspired haiku…


    Drink Monkey Shoulder
    Johnnie Walker Odyssey
    And Bowmore Darkest

    It’s not so hard, this poetry stuff. Alright, we’re not going to win any awards for that one, but it's an educational little segue into announcing that, amongst others, we currently have the cheeky Monkey Shoulder (was £29.75, now £27.25) whisky and raisiny Bowmore Darkest 15 Year Old (was £56.75, now £51.75) on special offer. The observant amongst you may also have noticed that sandwiched within our haiku was the brand new, "super-premium", limited edition and mind numbingly astonishing Johnnie Walker Odyssey (£729). Only 60 bottles of this whisky have been released on these shores and we have secured a couple. So if you are a whisky collector, a malt connoisseur or you were just really inspired by our awful haiku, grab one now before they disappear as quickly as our haiku writing skills.

    Judging by a sideways glance through our wine-stained windows, it seems that the hot weather may be petering out. But fear not, because you can take summer with you wherever you go with a bottle of our new Marieta Albariño (£8.50). It's packed with the juicy fruit of summer - peach, lemon, melon and apple - and a pinch of sweetness that makes it the perfect partner to Asian food or a last ditch picnic. The only thing that we found that comes close to being as refreshing as the finish on this wine, is taking of all your clothes when you are devilishly hot.That’s all from us, now what in the blazes rhymes with Gewurztraminer?

  • POETIC OFF-LICENCE

    A few inspiring verses...

    Maybe we’ve spent too many Sunday evenings listening to Radio 4’s Poetry Please, or maybe it’s hanging out at the monthly spoken word poetry evening at Oddbins Crouch End, Friggers of Speech, but we’ve been developing quite a poetry fixation here at Oddbins. Like most art, poems put life through a prism, revealing the myriad colours that we can’t ordinarily see. So, whilst sitting up in bed, sipping on some of Stanton & Killeen’s raisin-rich Rutherglen Muscat (don’t worry Mum, not a nightly occurrence), listening to Roger Gough’s soothing tones, we got a bit deep and thought how great it would be if our wine could be expressed through poetry and, indeed, of the parallels that exist between poetry and wine. They are both, we mused, crafted by passionate people who, on the whole, want to distil the essence – whether it be of place, a feeling, history or something else – into a concentrated and memorable final product.

    Friggers of Speech at Oddbins Crouch End

    Furthermore, poetry, like wine, also sometimes suffers from a misconception that it is complicated or elitist. Regular readers of our blog will know that we don’t hold this opinion when it comes to wine. But nor do we hold this view when it comes to poetry, which runs the gamut from song lyrics, limericks and nursery rhymes all the way to haiku and the works of Wilfred Owen, Carol Ann Duffy and Saul Williams. As with wine, we believe that when it comes to poetry, there is something for everyone.

    Inspired to pursue this thinking, we found some uncanny resemblances between vintners and poets. Take the Domaine Le Roc, who make our stonking, aromatic and weighty yet floral red from AOC Fronton, La Folle Noir d’Ambat. It is made from the Négrette grape, which is Fronton’s speciality, is like nothing else around, and has an incredibly daft label. The Négrette grape, so the story goes, used to be considered unworthy in France so was pretty much banished to the hot southerly region of Fronton, where it positively thrives and makes for acclaimed wines (see critic Jamie Goode’s review).

    La Folle Noire d'Ambat

    So who would Domaine Le Roc’s literary counterpart be? We reckon the roots poet and Brixton bad boy, Linton Kwesi Johnson...

    Linton Kwesi Johnson

    Linton’s raw energy and triple-distilled lines have earned him his place in history – he is the second living poet, and the only black poet, to be published in the Penguin Modern Classics series – but he didn’t earn this place with iambic pentameter (a five beat rhythm commonly used in traditional poetry), oh no. We think his free, expressive lyrics are a real match to the individuality of Domaine Le Roc:

    If I woz a tap-natch poet
    Like Chris Okigbo
    Derek Walcot
    Ar T.S.Eliot

    Ah woodah write a poem
    Soh dam deep
    Dat it bittah-sweet
    Like a precious
    Memory
    Whe mek yu weep
    Whe mek yu feel incomplete

    On the other end of the spectrum, you have history-soaked, established winemakers like Olivier Sumeire, who inherited a 700-year-old family-run winery in Provence (check out the family below). Instead of doing something radically different, Olivier does exactly what you’d expect from the region: feather-light rosés, but he executes them with distinction and incredible panache (have a try of our Cabaret Rosé or Château Coussin Rosé to see what we mean).

    Sumeire Family

    His poetic counterpart? Well there are a few to choose from, but we’ll settle with the Undisputed Daddy of English Literature, William Shakespeare.

    William Shakespeare

    Like Olivier, it’s the subtle masterstrokes and expert balance of elements that make his work so incredibly rewarding… especially on a summer’s day…

    Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
    Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
    Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
    And summer's lease hath all too short a date:

    “Yes, we agree, there are some chin-scratchingly interesting comparisons to be made between poets and winemakers, but aren’t you going off on one here?” we hear you say. And we say nein. Bah non! Nope… we’ve been gearing up to this for a while…

    This year, we have been using themes to help us delve deeper into the world of wine (if you want to know more about this you can catch up by reading our blog post: Wine's Best Friend) – we kicked off with Trust up to March, enjoyed Explore from May up to the beginning of August and now we’re entering the heady Inspire phase, it’s time to interpret our wines through the ‘prism’ of poetry. We’re not the first ones to be inspired to turn to poetry by wine – ever since man first stored grapes underground and discovered the joys of the resultant, fermented juice, people have been writing about it. Here’s a frivolous one by the 19th century poet Walter Parke, aka The London Hermit, called Cork Pops:

    There was an old waiter at Wapping,
    Drew corks for a week without stopping;

    Cried he, “It’s too bad!”
    The practice I’ve had!
    Yet cannot prevent them from popping!

    Well we popped a few corks ourselves with customers from Oddbins Crouch End’s aforementioned poetry group, Friggers of Speech, and asked three of them write poem-cum-wine reviews for our posters. You can see these in our stores up and down the country but we’ve included them here, for your viewing pleasure…

    Inspire Posters

    And that’s not all: our staff have taken up quill and ink and are busily scribing tasting notes in poetic form, and quoting poems that aptly sum up how they feel about our wines. But it is you, dear customer, who we really want to hear wax lyrical… so we cordially invite you to tell us, in the comments section below, about who or what inspires you, whether it’s a or a poem you’ve written about one of our wines, or just a poem you like, or something else that inspired you, like a piece of coastline or a type of telescope (you never know). If your answers, er, ‘inspire’ us, we might be moved to award prizes… Also, if you’ve ever written your own poetry about wine, we’d love to hear it. Again, just jot it down in the comments section below and, if we like it and it’s not utterly post-watershed, we’ll publish it here on our website… and there’s a prize up for grabs for our favourite Wine Rhyme of All Time. (LT)

    Stanton & Killeen Rutherglen Muscat

    This blog was written while drinking: Stanton and Killeen Rutherglen Muscat. “But Oddblogger, a syrupy, delicious dessert wine in midsummer,” you may enquire? Ooh yes. On ice-cream! Drizzle this raisin-y, nutty, orange blossom and lavender-flavoured amber nectar on a good vanilla ice-cream and if you aren’t inspired to grab the nearest pen and write some lofty words, we’ll eat our hat – and we’re wearing a sombrero, so that’s a lot of hat. Speaking of sombreros, has anybody seen our Mexican friend Pepita? Judging by David Greene's photograph posted on Twitter, she’s a bit lost and, being a penguin, isn’t great with public transport. Hopefully she’ll turn up safe ‘n’ sound…

    Lost Mexican Penguin

  • GET FRUITY

    Just in case you hadn’t noticed, there has been an important arrival recently. We’re not jumping on the Royal Baby bandwagon; we’ll leave that topic to the press who, judging by all their cooing and meaningless speculation, could just have easily been replaced with a flock of pigeons playing “Guess Who?” this week. No, we’re talking about the rebirth of Oddbins.com, soon to be the new king of wine websites. We put an easel outside Oddbins Towers to mark the announcement, but it didn’t quite the reaction of the one outside Buckingham Palace. So we are going to tell you all about it in this edition of Oddnews instead. But enough with baby talk, inspired by the Andy Murray quote used in our last email, in which he announced his hatred of bananas, we are going to ask you to explore your fruity side…
    We cannot condone Barbra Streisand’s wanton fruit wastage, however successful she may be. Surely she must realise that it doesn’t just grow on trees. To teach her the error of her ways we followed her and gathered up the trail of fruit left in her wake. We found not only melons, but also lemons, passionfruits, green apples, gooseberries, lychees and more. The plan was to make a delicious drink combining all these fruits that would change her profligate ways, but then we realised that the smoothie market is pretty much saturated. So instead we found a summery fruit bomb of a wine that already had all these flavours: The Ned Sauvignon Blanc. And to celebrate the launch of our new website, we are running a web exclusive price of £6.66 a bottle on this Kiwi legend. What do think of them apples Barbra?
    In the Chairman Mao quote above, he was addressing revolution and the fact that to understand or change something, you must jump in and experience that thing for yourself. Here at Oddbins we have kick started a revolution in the wine industry and are giving you the chance to jump in and be our wine buyer...Let us take you on a journey… imagine you are sitting on the banks of the Yangtze in Chairman Mao’s home province of Hunan, tucking into the big man’s favourite dish of Hong Shao Rou (red braised pork), surrounded by the towering mist covered Wuling, Xuefeng and Nanling Mountains. On your return home you decide to recreate that delicious holiday dish, but cannot find Shaoxing rice wine, one of the main ingredients, anywhere (please ignore the fact that Shaoxing rice wine is readily available in most Chinese supermarkets, this is a metaphorical journey). If you haven’t brought some of the wine back with you from your holiday, you might well be scuppered. But not anymore...

    Last month our E-Commerce Manager Olivia returned from her holiday in Rio de Janeiro raving about a Brazilian wine she had tried there. We got hold of a bottle of the Aurora Sparkling Moscato, tried it and promptly had an epiphany. Not only is this fruity, honeyed and floral fizz the greatest summer picnic wine ever, but it also made us ask ourselves "how can we get hold of the wines that you guys have fallen in love with on holiday?". So that is what we are doing. If you’ve fallen in love with a wine you tasted on your travels or you are about to head off on holiday, all you have to do is send us a photo of the wine, tell us the name and we will hunt it down. If we like it, we’ll import it, sell it through our website and give you a cut of the profits for finding it. We're calling it The Listing and you can find out more by clicking here. We’re very excited about this and can’t wait to hear from you. We think Chairman Mao might have considered The Listing a great leap forward for the wine industry!

    This is not the first time we have featured a quote from the sockless genius who declined the offer to be the President of Israel, and the more citations we find from him, the more we become convinced that he may have been a bit of a fruit loop. “Why?” you ask, “Surely his four steps to happiness checklist seems completely reasonable?” Nope, he missed one very important factor. The fifth step on the route to happiness is a full wine rack. Imagine how Albert's happiness would’ve shattered across the laboratory floor as soon as he took a rest from scratching out his beloved Mozart and realised there was no wine to quench his thirst. Quite. So to make sure that your happiness is not impeded by an empty wine rack and to mark the launch of our new website, we’ve put together a very special 12 bottle case of our 6 favourite fruity wines of the moment: Oddbins Web Launch Case. It not only includes the world’s first ever semi-sweet Albariño, a Bramley apple flavoured Prosecco, a Claret from one of France’s most cult winemakers (an Englishman no less) and an underrated gem from Périgord, but we’ve also knocked more than £35 off it. There has never been a better or fruitier way to fill your wine rack. Now all you need is a table, a chair, a bowl of fruit and a violin…That’s all from us, but just before we go, if you haven’t already, don’t forget to check out our new blog post all about fruity summer whiskies: For Peat’s Sake. It’s pretty juicy stuff.

  • FOR PEAT’S SAKE

    In search of the perfect summer whisky…
    Old Pulteney Barrels
    Big flavours are all the rage at the moment. The hit of chilli, lime, coriander and garlic provided by Vietnamese, Thai, Argentinian and Mexican food seems to have gazumped the gentle flavours of the Japanese cuisine that became so trendy in the 1980s. UK brewers seem to be following their American counterparts by cranking the hoppiness up to 11. New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, still delivering that roundhouse of gooseberry, tropical fruit and cut grass, couldn’t be more fashionable if each one were served by Ryan Gosling wearing an immaculately tailored suit and smouldering as he pours. And the most popular names on the lips of malt whisky drinkers are those distilleries that are ratcheting up the peat level. But here at Oddbins we have a few questions…

    What’s wrong with a delicious noodle broth and green tea? Why is it so hard to find a subtle pint of mild these days? Surely there’s still a place for the refinement of Sancerre? And doesn’t peat sometimes mask the delicacy and character of the original malt?

    Alastair, Scott, Ross and Ttom hard at work tasting

    Let’s start at the logical place: the beginning. To make malt whisky you need malt. But for fermentation you need sugar and this is locked in the malt as starch, which isn’t soluble in water and is therefore pretty much useless. To get the sugar out, you have to trick the malt into germinating, so that it starts to get ready to grow and turns the starch into the more easily usable sugar. To do this you soak it, then spread it out on the floor and leave it to do its thing. The germination is then stopped by drying the malt in a kiln, and this requires fuel. Big chunks of the Scottish Highlands are treeless and remote, so the locals used peat, defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “a brown, soil-like material characteristic of boggy, acid ground, consisting of partly decomposed vegetable matter.” Mmm delicious. Peat burns well and there’s quite a lot of it in Scotland, but when you burn it, it expels more smoke than the cast of Mad Men, and this pervades the final whisky giving an unmistakable smoky character. It’s a fine line between the peat enhancing the whisky and it becoming the defining character.

    Now don’t get us wrong, we love a peaty whisky. There’s something spectacular about an Islay malt. Those who receive our fortnightly emails may remember us waxing lyrical about one of our favourite peaty drams as follows…

    “You walk out of the cold wind flecked with sea spray, through the door of the smokehouse. The smoky warmth envelopes you like a billowing duvet as shrivelling Arbroath Smokies swing pendulously. A rugged Scot with the enormous tattooed arms of a sailor is flinging clods of peat on to the fire with a shovel. A rogue lump flies off the spade and hits you firmly in the face causing you to stagger backwards into the fisherman who has just arrived with his haul. You slip on a spilled haddock and fall at the feet of the fisherman, coming to a final rest on his rubber galoshes covered in seaweed. That’s what the manly Smokehead Islay Malt Whisky tastes like and it’s good.”

    So we know it might sound controversial to say this, but we sometimes find the peat a bit heavy for these summer months. On top of which, peat is also the Marmite of the whisky drinking world. So what’s the alternative? Well, they might not be quite so hip and cool right now, but there’s a plethora of less peaty and more summery malts out there. So we hit the road to find them…

    Knockdhu Sign

    First stop was Knockdhu, who produce the incredible anCnoc whisky. We think this forward thinking distillery is one of the big names to watch in the whisky world. These guys took it in their stride when people confused them with Knockando and changed the name of their whisky (how many other distilleries would do that?), when snow destroyed two of their warehouses in 2010 they just built a new one and used that as an excuse for a party, and eschewing boring calligraphy and olde worlde stylings they even let a New York artist design their labels. If anyone is going to give malt whisky a modern makeover, it is Knockdhu. Having said that, as innovative as their thinking is, the whisky-making process is hands-on and old school, as you can tell by the photo of the only computer used in making anCnoc.

    anCnoc's Computer

    In whisky circles a lot is made of the “angels’ share”, the romantic name for the malt that evaporates through the barrels as it is aged. But during our visit, Alistair Reid, the Assistant Distillery Manager, said that in the old days at Knockdhu, so much whisky was stolen by or given away to employees and locals, that he believed “the angels’ share was a fallacy.” Although they claim that those days are long gone, if you visit them, they’re so jovial we weren’t convinced that they don’t pinch a wee dram from time to time. And we wouldn’t blame them, Alastair from our Aberdeen shop described the anCnoc 12 Year Old as being as “easy going as the distillery”, the oak is gentle, there’s no overpowering peat, just complex malt, barley sugars, honeycomb, citrus, pear, apple and praline flavours. The smoothness accompanied by that twist of refreshing citrus makes this a perfect malt for watching the sun set at the end of a summer’s day. The richer anCnoc 16 Year Old, aged purely in bourbon casks, is available in our shops and will be on the web soon.

    Balblair Sign

    Next stop was Balblair, the Highlands’ oldest distillery. We fell in love with it immediately when Distillery Manager John MacDonald bounded out in his tweed jacket and warmly greeted the postie, who had arrived at the same time as us, by name and then told us that it was a wine merchant who had turned the fortunes of this distillery around after the war. Maybe that’s why they opt for vintages on their labels rather than the traditional age statements. Carrying on the whisky-making lesson, the next step is to mill the malt into coarse flour called “grist”. Balblair believe that the importance of this process should not be underestimated, so John checks it daily to make sure the grist is perfect. Hot water is added, which dissolves the sugar, creating a sugary liquid that is unappetisingly called “wort”. The wort is moved into a big vessel called a washback and yeast is added. This starts to ferment, producing what is in essence a beer, called “wash”. Sometimes this can be like an ale, sometimes it can be quite malty, but at Balblair, as Ross from our Mitchell Street shop in Glasgow pointed out, it smells like a fruity weissbier. And this gives you an idea of what to expect when you try their single malt.

    Paragraph-9-So-that's-the-wash

    In a nutshell Balblair whiskies hit a fruitiness that no other distillery comes close to. There is no peat in them and very few sherry casks are used, making them clean and balanced. The refreshing Balblair 2001 (a 10 Year Old) is an aperitif malt, offering up toffee apple, custard creams, pear, pineapple, orange, lemon and vanilla. There isn’t much of this vintage left, so don’t miss out, the 2002 will be arriving soon. The Balblair 1997, available in our shops, has just won a gold medal at the International Spirits Challenge 2013. The heavier Balblair 1989 (a 23 Year Old) is rich with caramel, vanilla cream, nutty spices, banana, apple and lemon. Yours truly, fancied trying this with a crème caramel on a summer’s evening, but the guys at Balblair were unfortunately not forthcoming with the pudding or the sunshine, as the drizzle set in over Tain.

    Balblair's MaltsFinally, we headed to the most northerly distillery on the mainland: Old Pulteney. We may not have been quite as exciting as the Russian millionaires who visited the day before or the killer whales who swam through the bay in search of seals that morning, but Malcolm Waring, the Distillery Manager, still made us feel like part of the family. The barrels in Wick used to be filled with herring, but now the majority of barrels here contain award winning single malt (apparently a German chap tried ageing a whisky in a herring barrel, but we think he was told politely that he could keep the results for himself). Old Pulteney’s malt has maintained a maritime feel, even if Wick has not. Malcolm tells us that they are “making hay at the moment”, the fact that their 21 Year Old just won Jim Murray’s World Whisky of the Year 2012 must have helped. Old Pulteney is referred to as the “Manzanilla of the North”, due to its salty twang and is aged mainly in bourbon casks from Jack Daniels, Buffalo Trace and Maker’s Mark, for three reasons. The first is that bourbon casks are cheaper than sherry casks, the second is that they don’t impart as much flavours, which keeps the purity of the malt, and finally because bourbon casks add sweetness that balances the saltiness of Old Pulteney perfectly. Only two people own single casks of Old Pulteney, one is Prince Charles and if you can tell us who the other one is we might offer you a prize.

    Old Pulteney SignThe Old Pulteney 12 Year Old has lashings of salt, lemon, sweet coconut and banana pith. The Old Pulteney 17 Year Old has a little Oloroso sherry influence adding richness and cooked fruit into the mix. One third of the Old Pulteney 21 Year Old is aged in Fino sherry casks and the complexity of it cannot be explained, you just have to try it to find out why this was voted the best whisky in the world. While sitting on a wall in the sunshine eating fish and chips with a dram of Old Pulteney trying to decide which was the perfect summer malt, Scott, from our Queensferry Street shop in Edinburgh, started telling us that he’d just seen a seagull (or a scurry as they call them in Wick), that was as big as a Westie. At that point we decided it might be time to come home.

    Old Pulteney Sign

    In conclusion, peat is awesome, but during the summer months, such as they are, we much prefer these gentle but refreshing malts aged in bourbon casks. (TO)

    This post was written while drinking: Semeli Feast White. OK, we know it sounds sacrilegious, but after all that whisky, we just fancied a glass of wine. This new wine of ours has proven almost as popular in Scotland as whisky, receiving praise from Tom Bruce-Gardyne in The Herald, Rose Murray Brown in Scotland on Sunday and Tom Cannavan who made it his wine of the week on his Wine Pages website. But it isn’t just north of the border, Tim Atkin also made it his wine of the week. High praise for an £8.50 Greek white: crunchy, floral, spicy and more importantly it’s undeniably summery. Wish that heat wave would hurry up.

  • ANYONE FOR TENNIS?

    We love a bit of Wimbledon even if it does seem to ruin the weather every year. So in this edition of Oddnews we will be exploring the fortnight’s news through the medium of tennis. Before rain stops play, lets crack on. Quiet please. Mr Murray to serve first. Play…

    It isn’t just Andy Murray who has strong opinions about fruit flavours, you guys do too. This was proven earlier this month when 8,136 of you turned out for Round One of The Palate 2013, our search for the UK’s finest amateur wine taster. We’ve now marked all the entries and whittled it down to the top 150 scores. These 150 winners will be coming back into our shops this weekend to collect their prizes and enter the Quarter Final. If you missed Round One or you weren’t one of the lucky winners, don’t worry, we are offering a limited number of wildcard entries into the Quarter Final. All you have to do is head to any Oddbins shop, or the Three Wine Men event in Edinburgh, this weekend (Saturday 29 and Sunday 30 June) and take part in a blind tasting. If your answers are good enough, you might find yourself jumping directly into the Semi Final, bringing you tantalisingly close to winning that holiday of a lifetime for two to Australia and New Zealand. To find out more about the competition and get a cheeky hint to help you with this weekend’s blind tasting click here. For the white wine in Round One, 50% of our entrants found grapefruit flavours, 38% ticked peach, 2% worryingly tasted penguin, but luckily nobody got banana. Andy will be happy (he does have emotions you know, remember last year’s Wimbledon final?).
    If you close your eyes while the tennis is on, you’d be forgiven for thinking that somebody had snuck into the primate enclosure at the zoo and was cruelly punching the baboons and poking the gibbons with a stick. When the grunting and squealing has finished, the tennis players then start shouting about themselves. Serena Williams once said “I’m really exciting. I smile a lot, I win a lot, and I’m really sexy.” We find this level of confidence quite inspirational and have decided to throw caution and modesty out of the window. Although Louis Roederer’s Cristal gets all the fame and accolades, their Brut Premier Champagne is simply awesome. A relatively high proportion of the wine is aged in oak casks, which is quite rare for Champagne. It is matured in the bottle for more than twice the length of time that wine law requires. These two factors give the Brut Premier an enormous depth of flavour and rich, nutty, toasty and yeasty flavours. And what makes it even more incredible is that it’s currently down to just £32 a bottle. Maybe Serena, Anna and the gang are on to something: it felt pretty good to shout about how good this Champagne is. But we’d better calm down before we tell you it’s sexy and get eaten alive by the Portman Group.
    Billie Jean King knew a thing or two about obsession: hers drove her to win Wimbledon ten times. One of our obsessions is beer. If you head into one of our shops today you’ll find two beers from the FIX Brewery in Athens (inspired by one of our other obsession: Greek wines), the Bavarian-style Huber Bock from the Minhas Craft Brewery in Wisconsin and an incredible array of local ales in support of Britain’s booming brewing scene. To help Andy Murray feel more at home in London over the next two weeks, we’ve brought a selection of Scottish ales from Fallen Brew Company, Knops Beer, Alechemy Brewing and Stewart Brewing down south. These are available in our shops in Balham, West Hampstead, Crouch End and London Bridge but, if you can’t make it to one of our shops, why not pick up our Local Beer Tasting Case online. The first instalment features a wide variety of styles from six of our favourite new London breweries. Our obsession may not change the world, but it makes it taste sweeter than nailing a cross court passing shot.That’s all from us, new balls please.

    P.S. Come on Murray.

  • DAD'S THE WORD

    Just in case you’ve forgotten, Sunday is Father’s Day. Unfortunately the big day is now a bit too close for us to get online orders there in time, although to be honest most Dads are probably so used to waiting around for their kids, that if a present arrives a couple of days late, he might not even notice. The good news though is that there is still time to get yourself to one of our shops. So in this edition of Oddnews we’re offering up some sound fatherly advice for anyone looking for a little late inspiration…

    If your Dad is a bit of a red wine-loving maddo, try him on La Folle Noire d’Ambat (a bargain at £10). “La Folle Noire” means “the crazy black”. We have no idea what “Ambat” means. Wikipedia suggests it is a mythical hero from Malekula Island, Vanuatu. But this wine is from just north of Toulouse in the South of France, so we’re not quite sure that can be right. You can’t always trust the internet though. The producer, Domaine Le Roc’s, website says about this wine: “Cette cuvée appelle à grignoter, à saucissonner et soutient remarquablement la conversation.” If you put that into Google Translate it suggests nibbling on something quite unexpected, which would definitely provoke the remarkable conversation that it also says it is a good match for. But enough of that. Made from 100% Négrette (a descendent of an ancient Cypriot grape variety) this meaty and manly red has received high praise from critic Jamie Goode, who gave it 92 out of 100 and declared “I just love this wine.” Recently described by another wine writer, Andrew Campbell, as “simply bizarre”, this eccentric little red is quite the adventure…

    If you were thinking of buying Pops a bottle of whisky this year, don’t just buy him the usual, explore his adventurous side and plump for something a little out of the ordinary. We’ve fallen in love with the picturesque Balblair distillery. Opened in 1790, it is the oldest distillery in the highlands (making it even older than wild west legend Buffalo Bill). Rather than producing whiskies with fixed aged statements (e.g. 12 year old, 15 year old, 18 years old, etc), they bottle only the casks that have reached perfection each year, creating wonderful vintage malts that capture a snapshot in time. It is also an incredibly friendly place; on a recent visit, we loved that Distillery Manager John MacDonald greeted the postman by name (we have to admit that we don’t know our postie’s name, but have decided that we will find out next time he comes round). When you make a whisky, the first step is to make a beer, which is called the wash. At Balblair the smell of the wash is like that of a delicious fruity weissbier. This beer is then distilled producing a new-make spirit, which is then aged in oak barrels. We have never tasted a richer, fruitier or more delicious new-make spirit than Balblair’s. The fruitiness carries all the way through their whisky making process, and when you uncork a bottle of Balblair 2001 (currently on offer at £38), it erupts with apples, lemons, oranges, pears, pineapples, custard cream biscuits and vanilla. Smooth, but remarkably fresh, this whisky is the perfect way to unwind after an adventure, buffalo-related or otherwise. We’re now wondering what Buffalo Bill’s daughters would have answered to the following question…
    McCain really posed one of the 20th Century’s toughest conundrums with this one. Although the little girl in the advert was pretty confident that she’d solved it, we think we have a better idea… why not have both? Forget taking the old man out for an expensive meal or having to labour over a hot stove, simply grab a bottle of Canard-Duchêne Authentic Brut  (currently on offer at £20) and head to the chippy. Champagne with fish and chips is one of life’s decadent little pleasures. If you haven’t tried it, or more importantly, if your Dad hasn’t tried it, treat him this Sunday. The full but fresh style of the multi award winning Canard-Duchêne (IWSC Silver, Decanter Bronze and IWC Bronze) makes it the perfect choice. Daddy or chips? Both please and a side portion of Daddy’s Sauce and maybe some mushy peas.

    That’s all from us, but while we are talking of mushiness, we’ll leave you with a clichéd, but nonetheless factually accurate, quote from tennis star Maria Sharapova…

    “Without my Dad, I wouldn’t be here.”

  • EXPLORING SPACE AND WINE

    Inspired by the news this week of Britain’s first official astronaut (although we're not sure what Helen Sharman thinks about this title), for this edition of Oddnews we’ve recruited some spacemen and spacewomen to aid our continuing exploration…

    Major Tim Peake filled in an online application form and soon he’ll be jetting off into space. Well, we have a story almost as crazy…

    Come and take part in a free wine tasting at Oddbins and you could end up jetting off for a 10 day luxury wine holiday for two to Australia and New Zealand, winning wine, attending a wine tasting boot camp and even choosing your own wine for Oddbins' shelves. It can only mean one thing… The Palate 2013, Oddbins’ search for the finest amateur wine taster, is back. To find out more watch our new video here. The first round will take place in all our shops on the weekends of 1-2 and 8-9 June. Wine tasting is fun, easy and anyone can do it. The Palate 2013 could be yours, all you have to do is reach for it.

    We’re pretty jealous of astronauts. How cool would it be to control the robotic arm of a spaceship? Another person that we’re pretty jealous of is Robert Oatley. He pioneered Australian wines around the world turning Rosemount Estate into one of Australia’s most famous wineries, he’s won countless yacht races and been honoured by the Queen for his contribution to the British Empire. He also owns the paradise of Hamilton Island, which the winner of The Palate 2013 will be lucky enough to visit. Just look at the pictures and you’ll want to enter the competition immediately. And as if that wasn’t enough Bob also makes an incredible range of wines. Plucking the best grapes from his vineyards dotted around Australia to make a stunning Shiraz from southern McLaren Vale, a perfect Pinot Noir from Mornington Peninsula and a charming Chardonnay from Margaret River. These bold, balanced and beautiful wines embody everything we love about Australian winemaking. When Oddbins eventually gets its own spaceship, we’re going to invite Robert Oatley to control the robotic arm and bring some wine for the journey.

    We would have thought that drinking before space travel would’ve been illegal, but who are we to argue with NASA and Ellen Ochoa, the first Hispanic woman to venture into space. What do you think astronauts have for Dutch courage before blast off? If Major Tim needs a suggestion, we’d recommend a classic Campbeltown single malt. With Springbank’s signature complexity, you could spend five months in space with just one bottle and never get bored of it. So many aromas and flavours, each dram is an adventure. For those not familiar with our website, each of our spirits has an alter ego. We currently have the Superman Springbank 10 year old, the Hugh Laurie Springbank 18 year old and the Bob Flowerdew Springbank 12 year old Calvados Wood. If you were looking for a companion to take into space, we imagine Superman would probably get a bit restless being stuck in a spaceship on a long journey, he’s been there and done that. There are no gardens in space and Bob Flowerdew’s ponytail would cause havoc in zero gravity. So taking into account Major Tim’s musical tendencies, we’d plump for the Hugh Laurie Springbank 18 year old. [Disclaimer: Oddbins does not condone drinking whisky before piloting a spacecraft]

    That’s all from us, until next time keep exploring, because as Frank Borman, the first man to fly around the moon, said…

    “Exploration is really the essence of the human spirit.”

  • IT'S ALL GREEK TO US

    Kalimera or kalispera, depending on when you open this edition of Oddnews. Regular readers of our blog will be aware that we’ve fallen head over heels for Greek wine this month. If you missed our recent musings on Blogbins, feel free to play catch up by clicking here. To help us explore the joy of our new Greek wine range, we’ve employed a few intrepid explorers. They’re an odd bunch so, be warned, it may be a bumpy ride. For example, Scottish explorer David Livingstone said “I am prepared to go anywhere, provided it be forward”, which must have made the manoeuvres part of his driving test particularly trying…

    For those not up on their explorers, Norwegian Roald Engelbregt Gravning Amundsen led the first expedition to reach the South Pole and was also the first to undisputedly reach the North Pole. He also rocked a particularly stylish bowler hat, though this was probably saved more for exploring the local grocers than for treks across the icy tundra. We like the mantra that “adventure is just bad planning.” But it doesn’t always hold true. Not planning sufficient dessert wine for your dinner party doesn’t make for an adventure, more of a veritable high society travesty, populated solely by extremely disgruntled guests. To avoid just such a situation, we imagine that Mr Amundsen always carried with him a husky sled full of Samos Vin Doux. Dripping with lemon curd, apricot and honey, this sweet little Greek marvel is an extremely versatile pudding wine, just as good with pâté or blue cheese as it is with baked cheesecake or a fruit flan. “Samos” even sounds like something you might shout to order the advance of your husky pack. SAMOS!
    Atma White - £10They’re an unusual lot, these explorers. Don’t get us wrong, we love a peach, maybe not quite as much as Thomas Walker, who lead expeditions into Kentucky and was also the first American to discover and use coal, but we do like them. We think we’d still choose life over shuffling off this mortal coil, even in the absence of peaches. Mainly because we’ve found Apostolos Thymiopoulos’ Atma, which is a glorious white wine, exclusive to Oddbins and made by one of Greece’s rising stars, laced with Amalfi lemons, pears and of course heaps of crisp peaches. Take some of Mr Walker’s beloved coal, fill the barbeque, fire it up, grab some σούβλα (that’s Greek for skewers) and get your souvlaki on. Drizzle with lemon and serve with a glass of Atma, for that’s what makes life truly great.

    Hatzidakis Santorini White - £13.75 & Naoussa Jeunes Vignes - £12.50Sir Hillary must have conquered himself a couple of times on the way up Everest. Do you think he and Tenzing Norgay raced the last bit to see who would be first up? Because we just don’t buy that “they reached the summit together” stuff. The Greeks have also conquered a mountain or two. Despite the trip-hazard of white robes hindering early progress, they turned the volcanoes of Santorini into stunning vineyards. Now Chablis and Sancerre may boast about their minerality, but the Hatzidakis Santorini White puts both French regions to shame with its stony, flinty flavour. Not satisfied with just volcanoes the Greeks then turned the Vermio Mountain range into a vineyard, producing elegantly exquisite, forest fruit-infused wines like our Naoussa Jeunes Vignes. And they did all this without a Sherpa and while wearing sandals. Go Greece!

    That’s all from us, until next time, we’ll leave you with some words from American pioneer and explorer Daniel Boone, which most of us can probably relate to…

    “I have never been lost, but I will admit to being confused for several weeks.”

  • POSITIVE DRINKING

    It's all Greek to us...Happy Planet Index 2012

    The United Kingdom is not famed for its positive outlook. In 2012’s Happy Planet Index we finished below Israel, Palestine and Iraq, this seems surprising what with our being relatively wealthy and peaceful all things considered. If you hadn’t heard about our standing in the Happy Planet Index, that’s probably because it wasn’t very widely reported. But why wasn’t it? We love a spot of bad news. Something meaty to moan about. Surely we could’ve gone to town on that one? Well the truth is that it wasn’t really bad news at all. In 2006 we languished in 108th place; by 2009 we’d made a giant leap to 74th; now we’re in 41st; if we carry on at this rate we’ll be in the top 10 for the next one. Watch out Costa Rica, you may be the greenest and happiest country in the world, but we’re coming for you. Unfortunately good news rarely makes the news.

    One exception occurred a couple of weeks ago when the Institute for Economics and Peace published the UK Peace Index, which revealed that violent crime is falling faster in the UK than in any other country in Western Europe. We may never be able to compete with the Germans when it comes to penalties, economic prudence or Riesling, but when it comes to happiness or peace we can. But the most interesting thing about the UK Peace Index was that our perception of violent crime is up. We’re becoming increasingly convinced that we’ll fall prey to an atrocity, despite the fact that the probability of this is reducing. Is this because violent crime and fewer bobbies on the beat are far more likely to make the news than the positive statistics that show we are safer? Why is good news not news? Reports saying “young people are much worse off than their parents” don’t mention that luxuries like mobile phones, the internet, foreign travel and a choice between green or red jalapeños in supermarkets are often a given now, but weren’t for previous generations. Our poor ol’ grandparents’ nachos must have been a woefully drab affair.

    Before you get worried, we’re not going all Harold Macmillan on you, and you know we love the press, but we do wonder whether it would have a positive impact on our current economic situation if we heard less about how dire things are economically and instead focussed on the successes and positives. Wouldn’t this help build consumer and business confidence where the politicians have failed? We’re not calling for feel-good American-style cute news story features like the water skiing squirrel in Anchorman, but a little positive perspective wouldn’t go amiss. Imagine how refreshing it would be if every bad news feature was balanced by something good like how well English wine producers like Gusbourne Estate did at Prowein, Europe’s largest wine fair, last month?

    Explore GreeceYou may be asking where on Earth we’re going with all this. Well the answer is Greece. We’re bored of hearing so much negative news about our favourite wine producing archipelago (oops, did we just offend New Zealand?). If you turn on the news you could easily get the impression that Greece has had its day and has been condemned to the past. But when it comes to wine we actually think that Greece is the future.

    This may seem like an unusual thing to say about a country with 6,500 years of winemaking history and if you weigh up the evidence, the odds may appear heavily stacked against our claim. Most Greek wine is made from obscure grape varieties, like Agiorgitiko, Moschofilero, Xynomavro and Assyrtiko, which are near impossible to pronounce, especially after a glass of wine. Winemaking is on a comparatively small scale, which means that there are few brands large enough to do the ambassadorial legwork needed to crack the UK market. Modernisation has been rather slow, there’s the love-hate relationship with Retsina, oh and you may have heard about a spot of economic trouble over there.

    But don’t forget, the Greeks introduced winemaking to Italy and the Romans then took it to France, so the two largest wine producing countries in the world effectively have Hellenic heritage (they may not appreciate being told that though). Those perceived weaknesses described above are, in our opinion, Greece’s hidden strengths. One of our bestselling wines is Quinta de Bons Ventos, a Portuguese red made from weird grape varieties, so maybe this isn’t a hindrance. In fact it makes a nice change from the usual suspects like Shiraz and Sauvignon Blanc, and who cares if the names are difficult to say if they are easy to drink, right? Small scale production means these wines are desirably unique and boutique, their lack of fame means that they represent great value for money and their survival through the economic tumult is proof of their quality. And finally we aren’t the only ones who think that Greek wines are the future, we have it on good authority that Hellenic vines are being planted in Australia, as winemakers there think that with climates warming they are going to need just this kind of hardy grape variety.

    A quick fix?So we took it upon ourselves to invest in the future. We’ve brought in a raft of new Greek wines, which you can pick up in our shops or online here. If you aren’t sure what to expect from Greek wines, we say imagine the food friendliness of Italian wines crossed with the rustic charm of the Portuguese. We also have two brand new Greek beers from Fix, which are available in our shops. Fix was the number one brewery in Greece, it unfortunately went into decline, but was resurrected and has risen like a phoenix from the flames and its beers are perfect with souvlaki, pork from the flames. Beyond that, we say, go forth and explore…

    Greek philosopher Aristotle said that “happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.” We’re no philosophers, but we think he is saying “happy is good” and we also think he’d have told us that there is more to Greece than the financial crisis. Our philosophy is positive thinking and positive drinking. (TO)

    Pyrrho and AtmaThis post was written while drinking: Rising star of the Greek wine world, Apostolos Thymiopoulos’ Atma White. This wine is vegan, organic and made using biodynamic principles; we think that means it makes the world a better place, just by its very being. But it’s the peach, pear and lemon laced taste of this Oddbins exclusive that puts everything refreshingly in perspective. It might even bring out your inner philosopher. It could be Heraclitus, Socrates, Pythagoras or Plato; we’re not sure which though, because like Pyrrho we believe it’s impossible to know anything for certain.

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