obody can attribute the line that the school days are the best days of our lives to a specific individual. And that’s probably just as well. As for many of us, it’s an aphorism that resembles the ultimate in eye-rolling, sardonic irony. September is the month that reminds us all of the days of leaf strewn playgrounds, ill-fitting PE kits and the cloying aroma of blackboard chalk, Bunsen burners and industrial chip fat from the canteen.
But let’s not forget that, for many of us, school also brought with it (unintentionally of course) our first introduction to alcohol. For me, it was a bottle of cheap brandy stolen from my mate Jon’s parents’ drinks cabinet, drunk instead of double history in a cricket pavilion a good two miles from the school gate. The brandy was disgusting of course. But it set the good ship aqua vitae in motion for the rest of my life.
This month, I can absolutely guarantee that all of the below drinks are more pleasant than that aforementioned 1996 vintage pavilion brandy. And all of them taste fantastic, even if you don’t have the added thrill of knowing you’re missing an hour-long lesson on the downfall of the Weimer Republic while you’re drinking.
Welsh Wind Signature Gin
I’m a sucker for a retro-style label on a spirits’ bottle and this blue-and-white number from Welsh Wind (based in Cardigan, West Wales) is a belter; reminiscent of the packaging design for a 1940s snuff tin or packing crate. Oranges, cloves and currents all rise to the top of the tasting palate in this blowsy, dry-style gin. I’m not sure it’s entirely necessary to name copper stills the way Welsh Wind has done (it's called them Afanc and Meredith) but it would be impossible to find a gin that is more closely identified with the Principality.
Portobello Road Savoury Gin
‘Tis the month for beautifully atavistic gin labels. And hot on the old-school winkle picker heels of Welsh Wind comes Portobello Road and its new savoury gin release which has a white-washed label replete with a floral design that pleasingly resembles the kind of table mats that you might expect to find in the kitchen of a rural vicarage. The ‘savoury’ element is perhaps a tad overstated; this isn’t the gin equivalent of Gentleman’s Relish, thankfully. What this gin has done, however, is ratchet up the notes of salt, rosemary and olives. Lip puckering and sour, this gin most certainly is not – but it does go uncommonly well with a plate of charcuterie and some fancy crisps.
Van Hunks Brut and Rosé MCC Sparkling Wines
Thanks to the continued outbreak of you know what, it seems highly unlikely that any of us will be holidaying in South Africa anytime soon. So let’s commiserate together with a bottle of Van Hunks, created by the Villiera winery in Stellenbosch, situated around an hour’s drive from Cape Town on the famed Garden Route in the Western Cape. Its solar panels and tree planting projects have seen it win a slew of eco-awards, but what about the wines themselves? Its Van Hunk wines are outstanding for the price; the rosé in particular is a gorgeously dry beast that is strong on the Pinot Noir but also features the elegant restraint of Pinotage, a grape variety native to South Africa.
Boco by House Coren
Let’s go back to school again very, very briefly. Here we find the Charmat method of making sparkling wine over in West Sussex. All the Charmat method means is that the wine undergoes its secondary fermentation in sealed tanks as opposed to in the bottle. After this, deposits are filtered out, dosage is applied, and it is then bottled under pressure and finally left to mix for a month before it’s ready to drink. The result is a sparkling wine that’s noticeably fresher and fruitier than sparkling wines made using the traditional method. Boco is a case in point; the debut wine from this vineyard is a feisty little number. I loved the fierce rise of bubbles upon pouring and the peachy, white colouring conspires with a taste as crisp and taut as a Philip Larkin verse but not nearly so acerbic. See, told you that lesson wouldn’t take long. Now back to scrolling Tik Tok under your desks.
Aluna Coconut Peach & Pomelo Liquor
Yep, that’s peach liquor folks. It doesn’t have a great rep does it? It’s reminiscent of the kind of vile homemade potion that eccentric uncles with sagging Fair Isle jumpers who frequent accordion recitals might mix in their shed. Or it’s the kind of sickly-sweet concoction that makes hen parties gag and rinses the cheap IKEA paint off the tables of chain-bar franchises with floor-to-ceiling windows. Can this vegan creation improve the rep? It stands a fighting chance as Aluna has taken the step of including its own (fantastic) Guatemalan coconut rum into the mix along with white peach, pomelo and coconut blossom nectar. It’s still a sweet number but not as fang meltingly so as any peach liquor you’ve previously been challenged with. Zippy, floral and surprisingly fresh, it’s worth a punt at only £20 a bottle.
Roger Goulart Cava Gran Reserva
Desperation, happenstance, inept shopping skills and tipsiness have collided in my kitchen a fair bit recently, resulting in my throwing random ingredients together with inevitably mixed results. My cack-handed attempts at fusion have had a couple of wins of late though. Firstly, try putting avocado and Marmite together in a sandwich. The creaminess of the avocado and the saltiness of the Marmite are the original odd couple who actually meld together beautifully. If you don’t fancy that combination, then how about fish and chips with good quality cava? Honestly, the combination of really good Spanish fizz with the crunch of crispy British batter and haddock is sublime. The crackle of the batter and the tingle of the fizz are best experienced with a bottle of Roger Goulart; an intense, thick, velvety number with hints of pastries, cashews and cream. The acidity cuts through the fat and oil of the fish and, let’s be honest, there’s something wonderfully decadent and classless about a full pour of premium fizz sitting next to a scrum of chip paper, isn’t there?
Roebuck Estates Rosé de Noirs
Let’s make another boozy trip to Sussex – the county where, on an early autumn day, the wheat fields rustling in the wind and the chalk cliffs gleaming in the sun, you can convince yourself temporarily that you’re inhabiting the early chapters of L. P. Hartley’s The Go-Between or the memoirs of Siegfried Sassoon before he went to the trenches. This ultra-small scale Sussex winery, only established in 2013, has just released its first sparkling pink wine, made with a Pinot Noir mutation called Fruhburgunder (which ripens around three weeks before standard Pinot Noir grapes) and Pinot Precoce. It’s an ebullient, confident wine for sure; the colour of pale wild berries and with a shimmering, smooth taste that makes you want to run full pelt towards the nearest spot where you might just find sunshine, soil and picnic rugs.
Hattingley Valley English Gent and English Lady
While we’re on our little Indian summer jaunt around the South Coast, let’s hop over from Sussex to Hampshire where we’ll find this sparkling specialist winery which has made two, small-batch varietals named English Gent and English Lady. This could all be a terribly fusty affair but the Gent is a knockout. Created by Head Winemaker Emma Rice, this is a classic sparkling white wine made from Bacchus and Gris grapes and has a modestly macho aroma of hedgerows and tweed. The English Lady is no slouch, either; a sparkling red wine made from Pinot Noir and Pinot Noir Précoce, which is, worryingly, exactly the same colour as Ribena in the glass but has wonderfully complex notes of toast, figs and very expensive dark chocolate.
both £19, hattingleyvalley.com
Co-op Les Pionieers & Morrisons The Best English Sparkling Wine
Ever since Lidl started selling £12 bottles of champagne, there has been a genuinely exciting level of competition among the supposedly less prestigious supermarkets to sell champers and sparkling wines that are the match of Waitrose and M&S. Frequently, these upstarts sweep the board in taste tests and there’s nothing in these two releases from Co-op and Morrison’s to suggest that the top-tier supermarkets can begin to relax. The Morrisons Best Brut got a Gold at the Decanter Wine Awards and has a surprisingly complex ruddiness to it with an undertow of almonds. The Co-op’s Les Pionniers Brut NV is even more impressive. It’s actually allowed to call itself Champagne and has a long, dry, sonorous depth to it that is genuinely remarkable for the price.
Laurent Perrier Cuvee Rosé Butterfly Robe
The idea of this ‘robe’, adorned as it is with rose gold coloured butterflies is, according to Laurent Perrier, a symbol of its commitment to sustainability and protecting the natural environment. Laudable enough but luckily, it’s also beautiful to look at; the kind of giddy, OTT pink and sparkle riot which makes you wonder why you never heard back from Annabel’s on Berkeley Square about your membership application. And, as you must have surely predicted by now, the wine contained within is as sybaritic as always. Laurent Perrier is a good deed in a wicked world when all’s said and done and, best of all, this ‘robe’ can be re-used to house bottles of infinitely less impressive wine in the future.