Spirits and Liqueurs
Happily, we are living in an age where people care about the provenance of what they are consuming and discerning drinkers would rather imbibe finely-crafted, 'small batch' distillates than mass-produced brands aimed at the unenlightened. This range of spirits has been diligently sourced and will make for gratifying consumption.
The Bunan family in Bandol use an antique wood-fired copper still to make their magnificent marcs. Their 'Blanche de Marc' is a crystal clear, unoaked palate-cleanser which should be served ice cold like a grappa. The 'Vieux Marc Égrappé' is a tawny-toned, contemplative digestif redolent of garrigue scrubland, wood smoke and toasted nuts – cigars and gun dogs are optional accompaniments.
The Dèche family at Château de Millet also deploy a wood-fired still to make their brilliant Bas Armagnac. When maturing in cask, it diminishes in volume year on year, due to evaporation, so you literally get what you pay for. Younger bottlings are quite vigorous and fruity and older examples are richer and more complex. Both make for excellent post-prandial enjoyment.
Over in Cognac, 'Maison Monteru' make cutting-edge concoctions and their double-distilled single grape bottling of Folle Blanche ran to just 750 bottles. With an amber robe and vanilla and spice notes supporting a complex palate, it drinks well from release.
Maison Joannes Colombier are based in Vilette de Vienne in the Northern Rhône. They use perfectly ripe 'Williams' pears to make their fragrant Eau de Vie de Poire which is best first chilled before, during or after a meal. Those wishing to make a statement should invest in the picturesque bottle containing an entire pear.
The Beyer family have been cultivating grapes around Eguisheim in Alsace since 1580 so have had plenty of time to finesse their métier. Their Eau de Vie de Mirabelle is made from aromatic yellow plums and has a wealth of stone-fruit scents and flavours. It makes a fine foil for hearty hill country cuisine and is wonderfully restorative.
Guy Smith and Laura Evans' 'Langport Gin' is actually distilled in Winchester but its principal botanicals – bay, thyme, meadow sweet and rosemary – all hail from their Higher Plot Farm in Somerset. It is a dry 'London-style' gin that should be served with tonic, ice and lime for a quintessential 'G and T'.
A recent addition to our range are Gilles Dumangin's whiskeys and whiskys that he has bought on his tireless travels. He uses barrels recycled from ageing Ratafia Champenois (already previously used for Northern Rhône Syrah) to 'double-wood' age small batches of spirits sourced directly from individual distilleries. The whiskey is an American Bourbon with a high 28.5% rye content and subtle dried fruit and nut notes. A Dutch rye whisky has a complex grassy palate and warming notes of the Ratafia barrels in which it was aged.
Completing our drinks cabinet is Julian Temperley's 5 year-old Somerset Cider Brandy – a full and fruity libation that is the perfect pick-me-up after a long day in the orchard.
We have been championing the range of liqueurs from Maison Gabriel Boudier in Dijon for decades as we aim to source the finest examples of anything we ship. They are best known for their celebrated Crème de Cassis that can be added to Bourgogne Aligoté to create a Kir; to Champagne for a Kir Royale or Bourgogne Pinot Noir to make the lesser-known Communard or Cardinal. That said, all of their liqueurs deploy the finest fruit available so it is worth branching out to sample their Framboises (raspberry), Fraises des Bois (wild strawberry), Mûres (blackberry) or Pêches (peach).
Pineau de Charentes is an inspired mixture of grape juice and Cognac often served with (and in) Charentais melons which makes for an uplifting and restorative starter. It is sweet but fresh-tasting and should be served chilled as a pre-prandial pick-me-up. The Gardrat brothers' 'Réserve' version is longer-aged in barrel so is deeper and darker and might be best served after a meal as a digestif.
Floc de Gascogne is a similar concept but revolves around an Armagnac rather than Cognac base. The Dèche family's version herewith is made with Merlot grape juice giving a garnet colour. It too should be chilled and is traditionally served as an appetite enhancer.
Ratafia de Champagne extends the concept into more northerly climes. It was traditionally beloved by sailors because it could stand the perils and privations of life at sea, Gilles Dumangin's seems equally popular amongst landlubbers and makes a stylish conclusion to any repast – excepting perhaps ship's biscuit.
Rounding off our drinks trolley is the product of local hero Julian Temperley who uses Kingston Black apples to produce his seductive Somerset sharpener. Somerset cider brandy is topped up with unfermented cider apple juice to give a Somerset equivalent to Ratafia, Floc or Pineau. Chill it well, admire its decorative label and think of England.