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    Please accept our humble apologies for the last edition of Oddnews. Introducing cannibals, drug addicts and shifty characters from the world of politics into your inbox was quite frankly a violation. There will be no more of that, especially being Friday 13th and all. So this week our inspiration comes solely from the world of wine…
    Pierre-Emmanuel may be on to something here. Oddbins believes that the most important thing about your wine shouldn’t be the price, but rather the experience you take away from drinking it. However, from time to time you can have your cake, eat a big chunk of that cake, lick the plate and then go back for seconds. And this is one of those times. For a limited period the Taittinger Brut NV Champagne is down to just £30 a bottle, saving £9. From its ancient cellars carved out of the chalk, this thoroughbred family-owned Champagne House produces what can only be described as a classic. It is the stuff of legendary celebrations or even a memorable Friday night in if you feel so inclined. Pierre-Emmanuel may not appreciate us saying this, but if you feel inspired to have a very memorable Friday night, grab a bottle of Taittinger and a couple of portions of fish and chips for what will prove to be the epitome of decadence and a veritable gastronomic entente cordiale, all for less than most meals out. Check out our other sparkling offers here.
    On Saturday 7 September we held the grand final of The Palate 2013, our search for the UK’s finest amateur wine taster. Our eleven finalists took a crash course in wine tasting with Saturday Kitchen regulars and power couple of wine, Susie Barrie and Peter Richards. They then faced two gruelling challenges to determine who would be crowned The Palate 2013. You can see exactly what happened by watching this video. On behalf of everyone at Oddbins we would like to say a massive thank you to every one of the almost 10,000 people who took part in this year’s competition. We knew you were good, but the talent for wine tasting you guys displayed still stunned us.

    If you are feeling inspired to get involved, The Palate will return during the summer next year. We’ve been privy to some of the plans for 2014, and without putting too fine a point on it, it’s going to be awesome. This year’s competition has inspired one of our finalists to pursue a career in the wine trade, so we’re sure she’ll appreciate the following quote...

    Friday I’m in love! The Cure loving winemaker Germán Lyon learned his trade in France, but makes his herby Gallic-inspired wines in Chile. He loves his job, he pours that love into bottles, corks them and sends them to us. We then pass them on to you and we love doing it. Although, we can’t guarantee that drinking Pérez Cruz’s wines will make you love your job as much as Germán Lyon does, their hearty reds can certainly warm the cockles of one’s heart. And with our Indian summer seemingly having been downgraded to more of an Icelandic one within a matter of days, they are going to be in fierce demand. So get yourself down to an Oddbins to pick up their Limited Edition Carménère, Limited Edition Syrah, Limited Edition Cot (Malbec, available in our stores) or the stupendously good value Waiki Cabernet. But be warned, although cockles may be warmed by these wines, one sip and you may be tempted to down tools, stop working forever and move to Chile. Wonder if Germán needs any help?

    That’s all from us, except to let you know that Dave Groves, the manager of our Crouch End shop, has written a guest blog post for us about his run in with a dead snake and a living praying mantis in Rioja. There’s probably some wine in there somewhere too...


    Guest Blogger Dave Groves (Manager of Oddbins Crouch End) visits Rioja in July 2013

    The first of our guest bloggers, Dave Groves, the Manager of Oddbins Crouch End, re-lives the thrills and spills of a trip to Rioja, where he tried some unforgettable wines and met some unforgettable creatures…


    At home, in north London, around midday, a report on the radio of delays to flights across southern England, due to a computer failure at Air Traffic Control, cast an ominous shadow over proceedings. Ours was supposed to be a short, sharp, slurp, sip and spit (maybe), in-and-out type of trip. Any major delays in getting there just wouldn’t work with our schedule...

    At 4pm, I headed off to Heathrow to meet the rest of the gang as planned, hoping that the ATC issues would be resolved. They were – excellent news. However, one member of the gang was at the wrong airport, Gatwick – not so excellent news. One high speed, inter-airport dash in a taxi later and the five of us: Thom from Oddbins Crouch End, Lucy, Lewis from Oddbins West Hampstead and me, were ready for action. We were joined by our guide, Andrew, who was to accompany us around La Rioja Alta, whose wineries make our Aster Ribera del Duero (£11.75), Lat 42 Rioja (£11.75), La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 904 (£35), Viña Alberdi Reserva Rioja (£15.75) Viña Ardanza Rioja and One Ribera del Duera.

    After a short flight, we emerged from baggage reclaim to find ourselves snuggled up close in a nice air-conditioned Mercedes – albeit without the requested Sat Nav.  Thom, the tallest of our gang, was in the hot seat up-front and, thenceforth, assumed the title Tom-Tom. Aiming us south of Bilbao at near warp speed, our very own Tom-Tom soon set us on our way. In Andrews’s hands, our Merc gave the Millennium Falcon a run for its money down the Kessel Run [that’s Star Wars speak for a really fast spaceship – Ed].

    Approaching Rioja, we stopped in a layby to get some directions. Lewis had wondered off to stretch his legs when he suddenly shouted ‘snake!!’ He’d very nearly trodden on a (possibly) deadly serpent. We all rapidly fumbled for our cameras and other gadgets, whilst in pursuit of this (probably) deadly snake, trying to get a snap…

    The (possibly) deadly snake

    After we’d had some smelling salts and fanned ourselves a little, Francisco, our wonderful, gracious host, came out to meet us in front of the La Rioja Alta winery. He then took us in to what would be our digs for the next two nights, at the magnificent Torre de Oña estate, the home of the Lat 42 Rioja, which is exclusive to Oddbins. There was a sumptuous spread laid out on our arrival of jamon (ham), tortilla, smoked peppers, white asparagus (my favourite). There was also quite a lot of cerveza (beer – Heineken, strangely), Champagne and of course lots of Torre de Oña and the delicious Lagar de Cerveramade Albariño by the company over in Rías Baixas. That is to say nothing of the fantastically refreshing Orujo, an Eau de Vie distilled with herbs and aged in oak. Served chilled, this slips down dangerously easily.

    Having survived our first close shave with nature (the (almost certainly) deadly serpent), we were to have another terrifying encounter – and nothing could have prepared us for this next beast. It was an alien-esque praying mantis no less, as big as your hand, basking in the moonlight and feasting on flies. This was Lucy’s quarry and again we were all queuing up to be snapped with this ferocious predator.

    Preying Mantis photo shoot

    The next morning, I rose promptly at 9.47am for a 9.30am start. Oops. This was not a huge problem, though, as our first appointment of the day was a tour around Torre de Oña, where we were staying, so, to steal a phrase from The Beatles, I “woke up, fell out of bed and dragged a comb across my head” and went to find the tour. At either 57 hectares (my notes) or 65 hectares (the information provided by the winery), this is a small but perfectly formed estate.

    The gang

    Not for the last time over the next couple of days, I was about to be blown away by the level of care and attention that La Rioja Alta pay to every stage of production. Spotlessly clean from top-to-bottom with barely a machine in sight, this is handcrafted wine in the truest sense.

    Here we tried the Lat 42 Rioja. To say it’s good value is an understatement.  It is a blinding wine; complex, with highly concentrated aromas, an intense nose of ripe forest fruits, blackberries and wild strawberries. It has plenty of depth, great balance and structure, fine gentle tannins and a lovely smooth finish with lingering red fruit and creamy oak notes. It has had 21 months in oak barrels, mainly French with some American and Caucasian too. Caucasian you say? Indeed – 20% of their barrels are made of Russian oak! I had not come across this but was edified to discover that it allows winemakers to obtain more fresh and mineral qualities in their wine.

    With that startling revelation out of the way, it was onwards to the star attraction – the main winery at La Rioja Alta. This is where the incredible Viña Ardanza Gran Reserva 904 and the legendary Gran Reserva 890 are fashioned, along with the slightly more modest Viña Alberdi. Down the years, I have visited many wineries throughout the world, but have never seen anything to compare with this magnificent facility. The scale was phenomenal, with 30,000 barrels, all made on site by their own coopers (barrel-makers). The wines slowly mature in the peaceful serenity of the cellar, with barely a machine in sight. Oxymoronic I know, but I can only describe this place as a boutique winery on an epic scale.

    The La Rioja Alta barrel room

    There followed a tasting of eight wines: Lat 42, Alberdi, Arana, Ardanza (904 and 890), Finca son Martin and Torre de Oña. The quality ranged from very good, through to great and excellent, with a splash of sublime thrown in for good measure. The flagship wine, Viña Ardanza 904, seemed to be at the top of its game: a powerful yet gentle, classic Tempranillo with a touch of uplifting Grenache. Lunch comprised of super tender lamb chops, barbequed over wood cuttings.

    This was not ‘fine-dining’, but rather the finest, freshest ingredients, cooked simply and allowed to shine. In combination with the wine, we were in gastronomic heaven.

    The view at Labastida

    Anyway, we headed back to the base for a post-prandial snooze – I believe it’s called a siesta over there – before heading off into the night. On the first stop on our nocturnal adventure we took in an amazing view of the region from the picturesque walled town Labastida.

    A swift libation in a subterranean bar followed, where we were joined by a Catalan acquaintance of our host who, unsurprisingly proud of his heritage and language, admonished us for waving ‘Adios’, as in Catalan, goodbye is ‘Agur’. Goddit?

    Partaking of the libations

    Our next port of call was Logroña and, in particular, a street called Calle Laurel, which is tapas central. We were treated to a whistle-stop-tour of some of the best tapas joints and had a glass of wine and a dish at each. This was enjoyed either in the street, or standing at the bar. We had various exotic dishes, including pig’s cheek and ink (with some squid in it). If we were in gastronomic heaven at lunchtime we had ascended further now, to some kind of Catalan foodie Nirvana.

    Reveille was 8.30am the next morning, to leave time for the 3 ½ hour journey down to Aster, where we arrived in good time for lunch. Stepping out of the air-conditioned luxury of the Merc into the searing 38 ̊C heat was something of a shock to say the least. I grumble, but if it weren’t for the furnace-hot summer days, the thick-skinned Tempranillo grape wouldn’t reveal  the deep flavours and richness that make Rioja wine what it is.

    A quick tour of Aster’s smaller, but nevertheless state-of-the-art winery, and a butchers at the vineyard later and we were back inside. Aster Crianza is one of my all-time favourite wines and I’d been looking forward to this part of the trip with zealotical fervour.

    It was served with slow-roasted lamb, cooked simply in water, lemon juice, salt and pepper for about four hours at 140 ̊C and some super-crisp salad, drizzled with beautiful olive oil and salt. ‘Delicious’ does not do this dish justice. For the wine, we had the Aster Finca el Otero, for which they use Tinta del Pais rather than Tempranillo, and use it to great effect. Elegant and well-structured, with superb dense, dark, ripe fruits, this was truly wonderful. Our incredibly generous host Francisco sent us away with a bottle of the Finca el Otero to enjoy at home. I have since recreated the lamb dish at home and can tell you, if you are having lamb, have Aster! It’s total perfection.

    We made the onward journey to the airport and home without further ado, in a fantastically sated and soporific state. I would like to thank our hosts La Rioja Alta for a truly magnificent introduction to their region and estate, and especially to Francisco for his time and efforts. Gràcies i agur.


    If you’d like to try the wines Dave enjoyed on the trip, without having to encounter (probably harmless) snakes, or (rather cute) praying mantes, click on any of the above links or peruse our Spanish wines in-store or on our website.


    For today’s edition of Oddnews, we’ve rather strangely found ourselves inspired by three fictional characters, each of whom were prone to genius but could also be described as ever so slightly unhinged. We’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions with regards to what that says about us…

    We’ll pass on the liver parfait thanks Doctor. On hearing the name Hannibal Lecter, the majority of people will suddenly lose their appetite. However, on that front, the fortunes of everybody’s favourite Chianti-quaffing man-eater might be about to change. To celebrate the release of Hannibal The Complete Season One on DVD and Blu-ray on 2 September 2013, we are giving you the opportunity to win a two Michelin Star meal for two at The Square Restaurant and a night in a London hotel. To be in with a chance of winning this prize all you have to do is click on this here link and answer one unfeasibly easy multiple choice question. Six lucky runners up will receive copies of the box set. And just to reassure you, we’ve given the menu at The Square a once over and the meat options all appear to be legit. Now who’s hungry?

    It is so difficult to find a quote from Malcolm Tucker that is suitable for a family-friendly publication such as Oddnews. For those not familiar with the show, Malcolm Tucker was the director of communications for the government and undisputed king of profanity in the BBC’s political satire The Thick of It. However, more importantly he was artfully played by the future Doctor Who: Peter Capaldi. Now if Peter Capaldi were a whisky, he would be the Ardbeg Ardbog. Now we admit that was a tenuous segue, but if you have a click on this link and have a read of 'The Oddbins Take' all will become crystal clear. Released on 1 June to celebrate Ardbeg Day, the extremely limited edition Ardbog is a heavily peated 10 year old single malt aged in ex-Bourbon and Manzanilla casks. Most retailers sold out of this whisky long ago, but we found a small batch perfectly preserved in a peat bog, dug them out and have made them available for your drinking pleasure. Grab them before they something-beginning-with-F off.

    Sherlock Holmes wasn’t perfect; by his own admission he had no knowledge of literature, philosophy or astronomy and only a feeble grasp of politics, he had a drug addiction, a roommate at quite an advanced age, a tendency to brawl, a stormy love life and an ego that makes Simon Cowell look like Mother Theresa in high-waisted pants. But you still have to love anyone who can rock a deerstalker and has an actual nemesis. However, one of our favourite things about Sherlock Holmes is that the world famous quote above was never actually said by him. It is just like the fact that Humphrey Bogart never said “Play it again, Sam” in Casablanca. So while we're on it, let’s dispel some more myths... Not all American wine comes from the West Coast; the mesmerising McCall Merlot has a very European feel and hails from Long Island, New York State, and is as a perfect blend of ripeness and elegance. Not all Vinho Verde is simple; if it is made by a winemaking icon like our Muros Antigos Vinho Verde it can be seriously serious. Germany is all about Riesling, isn’t it? Nope, try the nutty, peachy and creamy Wittmann 100 Hills Pinot Blanc if you want proof. Cava isn’t a patch on Champagne. Guess again; made by the first Spanish winemakers to use Champagne’s 'traditional' production method, Anna de Codorniu was the first Cava to be made from Chardonnay and it gives Champagne a run for its money at about a third of the price. We could go on, but there simply isn't room. Wine may not be elementary, but learning its little foibles is certainly delicious my dear Watson.

    That’s all from us, now let’s go and find some more savoury characters to hang out with.


    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 [email protected]. 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*.


    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?


    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
    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


    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, 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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.”

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