Armand’ embraces the new


Exquisite Collection Hawke’s Bay 2014

As the UK shivers in the grip of winter, Armand’s head has been turning to those places where the sun is still shining. In about two months it’ll be getting near harvest time in the southern hemisphere, and that’s enough to get me thinking about delicious new vintages of my favourite wines. New Zealand – Middle Earth, as a generation of yoof now call it – is quite rightly famous for some of its outstanding white wines. I’ve got a friend who will almost only ever drink New Zealand Sauvignon, who once insisted that we leave the reasonably-priced bar we were in to go to another – far trendier and eye-poppingly expensive – which she knew sold Cloudy Bay. Marlborough, whilst not being the only region capable of producing wonderful, zippy Sauvignon Blanc, has led the way in reforming a whole generation’s palates. But there’s a lot more to New Zealand than Sauvignon Blanc. Reds from regions like Otago have recently been making real headlines, with its cool climate being especially useful in growing excellent Pinot Noir. Hawke’s Bay can lay claim to being New Zealand’s oldest wine-growing region, and although it does produce some excellent single varietals, this Bordeaux-inspired blend is right up there in terms of value for money. The Merlot-dominant blend has a nose with classic right-bank notes of cedar and chocolate, while the depth provided by the Malbec and Cabernets adds dark fruit and a hint of cassis. It’s by no means a dense or complicated wine; and, truth be told, it does tail off a little on the finish. But make no mistake: this is good wine, and would grace a table laden with roasted red meats.

Available at Aldi at £6.99 per bottle


Bulldog Gin

It really does take a lot to shock me these days. I once saw mass celebrated without a maniple; but I don’t like to talk about it. All I will say is that the first time I clapped eyes on a bottle of Bulldog, I had to look twice. What kind of gin markets itself in a dark, brooding, almost menacing bottle? Surely this vibrant, light-coloured spirit should be packaged in something wondrous and shiny.

To give it its due: while the bottle a bit of a talking point, the contents leave no cause for argument. This is a delicious drink. On the nose, the floral elements of the botanicals back up a strong citrus base. Coriander and citrus peel are to the fore, and it you’re not too keen on juniper, this might be the gin for you. It has an extremely smooth mouthfeel and a slightly peppery, although not overly long, finish. With tonic, consider some pink grapefruit to augment the citrus backbone, or during the winter months, consider garnishing with a cinnamon stick. It will also go well in a Negroni.

Perhaps the best thing about this gin is the price. It’s inexpensive, widely available, and should be considered as an upgrade on your “house gin.” If you use it every day, you’ll get used to the bottle being all scary-looking.

Widely available at around £22 per 70cl bottle