Wednesday, 28 October 2009

The Sun: Vin du Soleil blind tasting

I got a phone call from The Sun yesterday. They'd seen my news story on about the release of their new wine - Vin du Soleil, and wanted to invite me and a colleague down to their HQ in Wapping for a blind tasting, the results of which you can read about here.

Born out of a collaboration between the red top's wine writer Brian Moore and Asda's chief wine buyer Philippa Carr MW, the aptly named Vin du Soleil, a blend of Vermentino and Viognier, went on sale at Asda last week, so The Sun are obviously keen to plug it.

Living by the Wildean adage that all publicity is good publicity, web editor Adam and I decided to do it. Arriving at News International we are met by feature writer Nick Francis and ushered to the 'Green room' - a windowless grey room with black and white photos of Carry On stars adorning the walls, which I could almost hear weep.

We're told by Nick to wait in the green room while he prepares the tasting. Twenty minutes later he emerges. 'Here's the plan, we're going to put you in black silk blindfolds and take a few photographs'. Horrified by the idea of these photos coming into being, I suggest it would be a better idea to cover the bottles rather than our eyes. Nick seems happy with this and promptly disappears.

Ten minutes later we're whisked into a studio and placed in front of a white desk like a pair of news readers. A man fits us with mics and the photographer begins snapping away. Nick emerges with two plastic glasses filled with wine. 'We're not going taste from these are we?' Adam asks aghast. 'You can't swirl them and the plastic will impede the flavour'. Off goes Nick again in search of suitable stemware.

Meanwhile Adam and I prepare ourselves for the challenge ahead. We were to taste six wines, five of which were around the £5 mark and one around £15, picking out the Sun wine and the £15 bottle. Participating in any kind of blind tasting is a risky business that sets you up for a potential fall - even the most experienced palates make mistakes.

Nick bounds through the door with a box full of glasses, which are promptly filled with the six wines and laid out in front of us. The camera starts rolling and we're told to look at each other and have a relaxed 'conversation' about the wines. Adam is a natural and launches into describing the first - 'light, fruity, a touch sweet', we both agree it's got some character, but isn't rocking our world. Wine number two is more to my taste. Its crisp acidity and green apple notes make me think it may be the Vermentino in the Sun blend. I boldly suggest we may have found the Vin du Soleil.

Wines three and four are dire - colourless, characterless and charmless. 'They must be Pinot Grigios' I say, looking disdainfully down the camera lens. Adam agrees. Wine five is more interesting, with appealing minerality and malolactic notes - cue lengthly description from Adam about the intricacies of malolactic fermentation. I steer the discussion on by reaching for glass six.

Mercifully it's good. Very good in fact. So good I wonder if it's the £15 wine. Lively, fresh, with good acidity and attractive floral notes Adam is convinced it's the Viognier from the Vin du Soleil blend, so we put our reputations on the line and hail it the Sun wine. At this point, camera still rolling, Nick starts waving his arms with glee and grinning. We must be right. But what of the expensive wine? I venture it must be wine two, as none of the others showed enough complexity. Adam agrees hesitantly.

The camera stops rolling and Nick tells us we're half right. We picked out the Vin du Soleil but failed to spot the most expensive wine – a Pouilly-Fuissé from Bouchardné et Fils, preferring the Jacob's Creek Semillon-Chardonnay blend. The Bouchard wasn't showing well - its supposed pear, apricot, floral and honey aromas had all but vanished. As quickly as we'd entered, we were stripped of our mics, shaken by the hand and ushered out of the studio and into the midday traffic.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Molecular cocktails: it's all in the mix

Ferran Adrià started the hydrocollised  ball rolling, then Heston got in on the act and now mixologists are the latest to dust off their test tubes and try their hands at molecular gastronomy. 

For the month of October Hush bar in Bond Street are offering a six-strong molecular cocktail menu devised by a duo of not-so-mad scientists Pedro Solorzano and Boris Ivan - the Blumenthals of the cocktail world.

During our mixology masterclass they seem keen to point out that the secret behind creating the perfect molecular cocktail is getting the quantities spot on. Too much alocohol and the cocktails won't freeze, too little and you've got a mocktail. 'You have to take all the elements out of the cocktail, separate them and reintroduce them in a different way', says Solorzano. 'The key is to keep the elements separate by mixing them at the correct speed', adds Ivan. 

First up I learn how to make a Piña-Cavia-da (a Piña Colada festooned with tiny rum-filled caviar-like balls). A syringe is thrust into my hand and I'm handed a white tub full of calcium chloride flakes. Flashbacks to grammar school chemistry lessons and the nightmare that is the periodic table ensue. I mix 1 1/2 spoons of the flakes into a glass of water and give it a good stir while filling my syringe with a sweet gloopy mixture of rum, apple juice and sodium. 

I then syringe drops of the rum mixture into the 'calcium bath', which makes the rum emulsify into tiny hydrocollised balls. A full syringe only gives you a teaspoon of balls - molecular cocktails are an intricate art and demand extreme patience on the part of the maker.

Pedro whips out a tub of pineapple and coconut sorbet from the fridge and spoons it into a martini glass, sprinkling it with the hydrocollised rum. It's not something you can really drink, more an alternative pudding. I plunge my spoon in, making sure I get a good dose of the rum caviar. It's hideously sweet, but the balls do taste of the Element 8 rum they were made with.

I also try my hand at the Caipiroli (a Caiprini shaped like ravioli), made from a mixture of rum, lime juice, syrup, green food colouring and sodium alginate. Dipped in the calcium bath, the mint green mixture is frozen for 10 minutes in a square mould. It's much stonger than the Piña-Cavia-da, and considerably more appealing to the tastebuds, especially when paired with the suggested green apple slices. 

Another molecular delight on the list is the B58 - a take on the B52 with the usual Baileys and Kahula and a shot of rum foam that explodes in the mouth. The glammest cocktail has to be the Element Fizz, a mix of Prosecco, rum and Grand Marnier caviar that floats ebulliently round the glass chasing the bubbles.

'We're off to Spain tomorrow to showcase the cocktails in Barcelona', Boris informs me, as he dips into the fridge and brings out his latest experiment – strawberry beer sorbet. 'We're planning on pouring it into the beer bottles and serving it like that. I want to bring all the elements of the kitchen back into the bar. The bar is the new kitchen'. 

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Tequila: don't slam it

When you hear the word Tequila what comes to mind – the worm at the bottom of the bottle? Hideous hangovers from one too many Tequila slammers? Whatever thoughts Tequila inspires, they are unlikely to live up to the refined recollections one associates with wine. Though the spirit has noble roots – Aztec royalty used to drink it as a digestif.

It was with interest and an open mind that I headed to Mexican mecca Café Pacifico in Covent Garden for a Tezón Tequila masterclass. Like Champagne or Cognac, Tequila takes its name from its appellation of origin; the town of Tequila. The spirit is made from the agave plant, which is not a cactus as is widely (and wrongly) thought. There are over 200 varieties of agave in Mexico, but only Blue Weber Agave is used in the production of Tequila.

Much like wine, Tequila production is strictly controlled, and the spirit can only be produced in five small regions around Guadalajara in northwest Mexico. The agave plant grows on volcanic soils rich in minerals and takes around 6-8 years to mature, depending on its terroir. Plants in the highlands mature more slowly than in the hotter lowlands, where the sugars ripen earlier.

A beautiful turquoise colour, the plants are cut and left to steam in a brick oven for 36 hours to help increase their sugar content. The juice is then squeezed out and placed in fermentation vats made of American oak, where yeast is added. The spirit is double distilled before bottling, or, in the case of the Reposados and Añejos, barrel ageing.

Like wine, flavour is obtained from the oak barrels and differs depending on the amount of time spent in cask. French oak imparts a chocolate aftertaste while American oak offers vanilla sweetness. Barrels can even be charred – old Bourbon barrels are becoming increasingly popular as they offer attractive sweet smokey aromas associated with Bourbon and Whisky.

There are two types of Tequila - 100% Agave Tequila (made solely from Blue Weber Agave) and Tequila, a blend that must contain at least 51% Blue Weber Agave. The final 49% can be a blend of sugarcane and corn sugar. 100% Agave Tequilas are considered superior to blended Tequilas, offering higher overall quality and purity of flavour.

Tequila is the fastest growing spirit in the UK, reflected by the emergence of The Tequila Society (, set up earlier this year by flame-haired comedy actress and TV producer Cleo Rocos to promote the category. Chatting to Rocos, she seemed keen to promote the spirit's slimming benefits: 'Mexican women use it to diet as it contains virtually no calories – I swear by it'.

I was advised to approach the Tequila tasting in the same way I would a wine tasting - first smelling the spirit, then giving it a swirl and allowing plenty of air in when tasting. First up was the straight-to-bottle Tezón 100% Agave Plata. As it has no contact with oak, the agave flavour really comes through, so you get lovely, gin-like herbal notes on the nose.

Moving onto the Reposado, the first thing you notice is the colour. A year in oak turns Tequila pale yellow. The nose was totally different to the Plata - with wonderful vanilla sweetness, charcoal and peaty aromas on display. The Añejo I tried was aged for two years in Bourbon barrels, giving it hints of maple and a lovely long smokey length. It was fascinating to compare the three, and witness the affects of barrel ageing. 

Last on the tasting menu was 'Diva', a pink Tequila soon to be shipped to the UK. Aged in Merlot barrels for eight months, giving it an attractive Provencal onion skin colour, the spirit was astonishingly wine-like. The nose showed fascinating Port-like flavours – raisins, prunes, sultanas, Christmas cake and chocolate, while the palate was smooth, full and feminine with a long peaty finish.

But what of the worm I hear you cry! You will never find a worm in a bottle of Tequila. They only appear in Mezcal, an almost identical spirit made from Agave potatorum. The addition of the worm has nothing to do with imparting flavour, it's more of a marketing ploy to show the spirit is strong enough to kill the worm. Producers pluck the worms from the agave plants and pop them (still wriggling) into the bottles.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Absolut Ice Bar - too cool for school?

While I aim to mainly cover wine in this blog, there will be the odd detour into other areas of the food and drink spectrum. Last night my poison of choice was vodka, as I headed down to the re-launch of the Absolut Ice Bar on Heddon Street.

'Ice designers' from the famous Ice Hotel in Sweden have worked wonders with their picks to create a new underwater theme, so you get to knock back shots to a backdrop of star fish and octupi.

Before entering the bar, kept at a frosty five degrees below zero, a shiny blue hooded cape is flung over your head, accessorized with a pair of gloves on a string. As it's essentially like hanging out in a freezer, visits are trimmed down to 45 minute slots. This is the perfect amount of time to take in the ice sculptures, prop yourself up against the ice bar and down a couple of vodka shots served in ice glasses.

I opted for the 'sea cow' - a luminous yellow Absolut raspberry shot. Smooth and sweet, it was delicious. I went for a second but had to drink it against the clock - literally. A digital clock on the wall counts down the amount of time you have left in Eskimos paradise. By the time it ran down to zero my fingers were numb, teeth were chattering and I was dying to be back in the warm. Stepping out onto Heddon Street, the night air felt toasty in comparison. I don't think I'll ever go back, but it's one of those places all Londoners have to try once.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Chocolate: raising the bar

It's national chocolate week and the city is buzzing with chocolate themed events, giving me the perfect excuse to indulge for 'research' purposes. I headed down to the Mayfair Hotel for Chocolate Unwrapped, the first event of its kind in the UK dedicated entirely to chocolate.

All of the big names were represented, from Artisan du Chocolat and Rococo to Hotel Chocolat. The fascinating thing for me, aside from getting to compare colours, flavours and textures, was learning about how chocolate is made - the detailed process from 'bean to bar'.

The word chocolate comes from the Nahautl 'xocolãtl', meaning bitter water. It reminded me of when I first got into wine - the excitement of discovering a new world, with its own vocabulary. From conching and winnowing to tempering, chocolate has its own language, which is as foreign as wine speak to the uninitiated.

Comparisons with winemaking kept coming up. As with wine, terroir is crucial in determining the taste and characteristics of the chocolate. Different chocolates actually taste of where they are from. And as with single vineyard wines, single origin chocolates from one plantation produce higher quality chocolate to those from a combination of sites, and companies seem keen to shout about provenance on their labels.

The chocolate making process is also quite similar to winemaking - from the harvesting (twice yearly in May and November) to the fermenting, drying, de-shelling and roasting, through to conching, where the chocolate is ground down, melted and turned with oxygen.

Only three companies in the UK make their chocolate from bean to bar. The rest buy it ready made, which they melt down and add their own flavours to. There seems to be a big debate over cocoa percentages - with 70% seen as the ideal. Some of the chocolatiers argue that it all depends on the bean, and the flavour you are going to blend it with. 'A raspberry chocolate could never stand up against 70% cocoa', one chocolatier insisted. 'The flavour can only come out at 60%'.

Chocolate certainly seems to be raising its game – there is a huge difference in quality between your average bar of Cadburys and the artisanal creations from the likes of Hotel du Chocolat. To reflect this rise in quality, an 'Academy of Chocolate' has been set up to promote fine chocolate in the UK and honour the best in chocolate making in their annual Academy of Chocolate Awards, much like our Decanter World Wine Awards.

Top 5 chocolates of the day -

Sir Hans Sloane drinking chocolate, which I tried in pellet form – made from chocolate spun around a single grain of sugar, it had a lovely crunchy, almost biscuity texture.

Pacari Raw Chocolate - 100% unprocessed cocoa made from cocoa powder, cocoa butter and nothing else. It was surprisingly smooth and, I'm told, rich in antioxidants.

Artisan du Chocolat salted caramel - their best seller, these dusted truffles burst in the mouth, filling it with delicious oozing salty caramel.

Scand Choco white chocolate made with goats milk - not the tastiest chocolate of the day, but wins points for individuality. Tastes of sweet goats cheese, which is confusing for the palate.

Rococo Darjeeling chocolate - dusted with gold, real perfume is added in order to achieve the strong Darjeeling flavour - this is apparently top secret.

Weird fact of the day: monkeys love the sweet white pulp from cocoa pods.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

PX I love you

From bone dry Finos to unctuous PXs, Sherry runs the gamut of the flavour spectrum and goes fantastically well with all kinds of food. Here are the pick of the bunch from a recent tasting put on by the Sherry Institute of Spain at the Spanish Embassy in London – olé!

Bodegas Pérez Marín, La Guita Manzanilla ****

Fresh and bright, there is clear sea air on the nose coupled with wild floral aromas and yeasty notes. Light and fresh on the palate, with an appealing savoury Umami taste and enveloping persistence. £10.99; Vinoteca

Bodegas Lustau, Puerto Fino ****

Light, dry and tangy with flor aromas and lashings of salty Marmite. On the nose are chestnuts, almonds and a hint of spice. Soft and well balanced the palate, this Fino has attractive freshness and excellent length. £13.50; Roberson

Bodegas Gonzáles Byass, Del Duque Amontillado Muy Viejo *****

Amber colour, with toasted almond, hazelnut, vanilla and caramel aromas blended with zesty lemon. Powerful, dry and nutty in the mouth with oxidized notes and surprising acidity that fades into a rich hazelnut finish. £18;

Bodegas Sánchez Romate, NPU Amontillado *****

Made in the classic, very dry amontillado style, which the Spanish favor, this is a delightful wine. The complex nose combines toasted almonds and hazelnuts, toffee and vanilla. Powerful, dry and balanced on the palate, it has an intense tang and a hint of Fino saltiness in the exquisite lingering finish. £14.99; Wimbledon Wine Cellar

Williams and Humbert, Dos Cortados V.O.S 20-year-old Palo Cortado ****

Amber colour, it showed warm vanilla and spicy notes on the nose, along with a sprinkling of salted almonds. The palate is soft, spicy and nutty with hints of citrus fruit and an attractive nutty complexity. An excellent rich mouthfeel balanced by wonderful acidity that blends into a lingering hazelnut finish. £12.99; Theatre of Wine

Fernando de Castilla, Antique Oloroso *****

Tawny colour, it has a light typical nose of almonds and hazelnuts, along with attractive citrus orange peel notes. The palate is dry, with a lovely nutty savouriness and hints of spice. A bright, vibrant wine with wonderful freshness and exceptional length. £23; The Sampler

Sandeman, Royal Corregidor Rich Old Oloroso ****

An attractive mahogany colour with a heady nose of nuts, dried fruits, prunes, raisins and sultanas - there’s a lot going on here. Lots of lovely rich ripe fruit on the palate, which is elegant and velvety rather than cloying due to refreshing acidity. £14.99; Harrods

John Harvey & Sons Ltd, V.O.R.S 30-year-old Rich Old Oloroso *****

A walnut colour, we’re in Oloroso heartland here. Rich, spicy, nutty nose with dollops of caramel and toffee. The palate is intense, mouthfilling and complex with attractive oxidized notes, fresh citrus and a creamy sweetness pairing with dried fruits into a long nutty finish. Price tbc; Bordeaux Quay

Bodegas Valdivia, Sacromonte Pedro Ximénez ****

Dark brown, the nose is rich and aromatic, with raisins, figs, plum jam and honey in the mix, alongside roasted coffee beans and a strange but appealing truffle aroma. Smooth and velvety in the mouth, it’s sweet and treacly without being cloying. £19.95; Laymont & Shaw

Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana, Triana Pedro Ximénez *****

Almost black, it has serious legs that leave the glass with a golden brown coating. This is a very traditional PX with everything you would expect – warm wintry raisins, figs, prunes, sultanas and mince pies on the nose and an opulent palate that bursts with bitter treacle and lingers lusciously in the mouth. £12.99; Wine Rack

Friday, 9 October 2009

Phillip Schofield: My Passion for Wine

I'm in Phillip Schofield’s cellar drinking a 1982 Canon. Our interview has ended and before having his photo taken, he decides it would be a good idea to crack open a claret to enjoy during the shoot. We were given strict instructions by the PR to be in and out of his Henley home in an hour. Two hours on and we haven’t taken a single picture.

Since Decanter last spoke to the 46-year-old presenter of daytime TV’s star turn This Morning a decade ago, he’s been busy amassing a 7,500-bottle cellar of superstars that would quicken the pulse of most wine lovers. Wooden cases are stacked floor to ceiling like Jenga blocks, and at every turn is a big name – Pétrus, Cheval Blanc, Ausone, Angelus, Le Pin, Lafite, DRC, Yquem – it’s hard to think of a top wine that isn’t represented. ‘It’s the only thing I’ve got into that I’m still passionate about,’ Schofield admits. ‘Over the past 10 years it’s become even more of an obsession.’ He couldn’t be more serious about wine; every bottle is logged and he faithfully keeps tasting notes for every wine he drinks. It’s a far cry from the days of presenting children’s TV with furry sidekick Gordon the Gopher.

The country house Schofield shares with his wife, Steff, and two teenage daughters has two cellars: one under the house for ‘everyday drinking’, reached via a staircase that appears out of nowhere from under the floorboards; and a ‘long-haul’ cellar under his garage. He’s going to need a third at this rate. Standing in his impressive garage cellar, it strikes me how at odds his wine obsession is with his fluffy public persona. When it comes to wine, this man means business.

Schofield’s taste leans heavily towards the Old World – ‘there’s nothing finer than a classic Bordeaux or a beautifully elegant Burgundy’ – but he does play a little in the New World. ‘I have a four-bottle allocation of Araujo in California, which I take every year. It took three years to get three bottles. The next year someone died so I got an extra bottle – it’s dead man’s shoes.’

The self-styled ‘silver fox’ has established himself among wine’s movers and shakers, and enjoys invites to the en primeur tastings in Bordeaux and decadent dinners at the likes of Latour. Having previously concurred to save face, Schofield is now confident about stating his opinion at tastings after witnessing mistakes from the top of the wine tree. ‘I took a bottle of the 1962 to Latour, and Frédéric Engerer, the MD, didn’t know what it was. That was great!’

Even though he doesn’t buy to invest – ‘I’ve never bought a bottle I intended to sell’ – Schofield keeps an eye out for bargains. ‘The city boys are all going bust so their wine is flooding the market. They drove us into this mess so we deserve the pickings of their wine.’ And in today’s delicate financial climate, he sees his cellar as his safety net. ‘If my world falls apart, my wine collection will be my pension.’

His wine heartland is Bordeaux, but he dabbles in Burgundy through Rousseau and DRC, favouring Gevrey-Chambertin, and the Rhône – Guigal’s single-vineyard Côte-Rôties are among his favourites. Despite having more than he could possibly drink, Schofield saves his top bottles for special occasions. He’s not the type to kick back and enjoy a Latour 1982 with a movie mid-week. ‘You’ve got to open your best bottles in the right frame of mind. Wine is so emotional. A friend of mine died and I thought, sod it, I’m going to open something amazing. I did and it was dreadful. A Mouton 1982. I may as well have had a coffee.’

Does having to wake up so early for work deter him from midweek drinking? ‘Steff isn’t a red wine drinker, so if I open a bottle during the week it’s going to be me drinking it. I can’t remember the last time I re-corked a bottle and drank it the next day.’ He’s healthily blasé about the Government’s nanny-state stance on drinking. ‘I don’t care what the government says about drinking. I’m fed up of being patrolled by the fun police.’

His most memorable bottle was enjoyed last year with Jancis Robinson MW, whom he cheekily calls ‘her majesty’. Schofield had organised a Cheval Blanc vertical at culinary alchemist Heston Blumenthal’s Bray pub, The Hinds Head. ‘The waiting staff staggered over from The Fat Duck with Riedel glasses’, he recalls. ‘I’d been saving this bottle of 1947 for a decade. I remember bidding for it over the phone in a lay-by in Wolverhampton. I’ve never felt more pressure than I did about opening that bottle. Thank God it performed beautifully.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Wine and music: notes from the glass

It all started with Aurelio Montes playing monastic chants to his maturing wine casks in his Feng Shui-optimised barrel room. I got to thinking about wine and music, and whether there really is a correlation between the two. Can what we drink be made to taste better depending on the soundtrack we sip it to? Apparently so – a study carried out by Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh found that music can affect perception in other senses and change the way wine tastes.

The research is based on the theory of cognitive priming, which holds that certain styles of music stimulate, or prime, certain parts of the brain. When wine is tasted, these areas are already active and have a corresponding effect on our perceptions of taste. Hence when a powerful piece of music such as O Fortuna from Carl Orff's Carmina Burana is played, a wine like Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon is perceived as being richer and more robust than when no music is heard. Similarly, a Chardonnay seems bolder and fresher when accompanied by pop.

So which CD's do I whack on when I'm cracking open a bottle? A Tempranillo calls for something upbeat and fun – Chuck Berry or the Contours, while a Pinot demands something brooding, pensive and introspective, say Feist or Regina Spektor. Champagne goes best with effervescent and ebullient tracks from the likes of the Noisettes, Lady Gaga and La Roux, while Merlot is made for mellow music – Otis, Jack Johnson and José Gonzales. Nothing goes better with a crisp, dry Manzanilla than the passionate lyrics of Pasión Vega, or the hypnotic chords of Paco de Lucía. Syrah screams guitar – Hendrix, Guns N' Roses and Green Day would all work a treat, while I can think of nothing better to accompany a sweet, mouthfilling PX than treacle-voiced Ella Fitzgerald singing Cheek to Cheek.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Selfridges Wonder Bar: pleasure by the measure

Tonight was an exciting night for the team. It was the launch of our brief but brilliant two week tenure at the Wonder Bar in Selfridges. For the next 14 days, 50 Decanter World Wine Awards trophy winners will have their fine curves wedged tightly into an Enomatic machine in order to be devoured and enjoyed by the public.

To put it into perspective, 10,285 wines entered the competition this year and only 91 came away with a trophy. These 50 bad boys make up the top 1% of the wines tasted by our panel, so whatever you end up trying, it's pretty likely to be good.

On my way to the tasting I caught sight of a flashing yellow sign that formed part of one of the window displays. Framed with Hollywood-style light bulbs, it took me a while to realize it was a huge poster advertising our collaboration with the Wonder Bar. There, in the window of Selfridges, one of the biggest department stores in London, if not the world, was Decanter's name in lights, literally. It was a weird and wonderful moment. I felt excited and proud of our fifteen minutes of fame, and the fact that we've stepped outside the insular bubble the wine world is guilty of cocooning itself in.

So, how did the wines fare? I'm a big fan of the Enomatic. It's like a wine pick 'n' mix full of liquid pleasure by the measure. The beauty of it is that it drags people out of their comfort zones and forces them to try something new. Currency comes in the form card that can be topped up in multiples of ten. So £10 will get you 10 samples of wine under £10 or 5 samples of wine over £10. Once you've juiced your card the fun begins. You get that kid in a sweet shop feeling where you genuinely don't know where to begin.

I hit the wine jukebox with brio, starting with a trio of whites, moving on to an octet of reds and ending with a quartet of sweet and fortifieds. Here are my top ten...

Rustenberg, Chardonnay, Stellenbosch 2007
Light and fresh on the nose, with aromas of crunchy green apple, citrus and honeysuckle. Creamy and complex on the palate with a lovely rounded mouthfeel and appealing malolactic notes. The wine has lovely balance and lingering length.

Maison Albert Bichot, Domaine du Pavillon, Mersault Premier Cru Les Charmes 2007
A classic nose displaying wonderful minerality. We're in Burgundy heartland. Elegant and refined on the palate with buttery malolactic notes pairing with refreshing citrus and green apple. A lovely, rich, creamy mouthfeel balanced by a good acidity that cuts through it. The delicious mineral notes persist. A truly charming wine.

Weingut Johann Donabaum, Riesling Smaragd Setzberg, Wachau, 2007
A lively nose of citrus and stone fruits including lemon, lime, peach and apricot that mix with blossom and floral notes. Lots of tropical fruit on the palate, from passion fruit to lychee. The wine has a lovely acidity and underlying mineral notes. It's zippy, young and full of the joys of spring (even when opened in Autumn).

CVNE, Pagos de Viña Real, Rioja, 2002
An attractive ruby colour with a lovely savoury meaty animal nose, along with baked cherries, cedarwood and leather. A very traditional Rioja. Smooth and silky on the palate, the wine has excellent structure and persistent length. Pass me the lamb chuletitas.

Jacob's Creek, Johann Shiraz Cabernet, 2001
A lovely nose of black bramble fruit - black currants, black berries, black cherries, mint and eucalypt. Smooth on the palate, it retains its elegance despite a voluptuous full body and bold, grippy tannins weaved with wonderful spicy peppery notes.

Marchesi di Gresy, Martinenga, Barbaresco, 2005
A typically Italian nose of lively bright ripe red fruit - strawberries and bitter cherries. Vibrant and smooth on the palate with appealing licorice and smoky notes wrapped around firm grippy tannins. Balsamic notes on the finish.

Valdivieso, Single Vineyard Merlot, Curicó Valley, 2007
Slightly jammy rich ripe red fruit and vanilla sweentess on the nose mixing with black cherry, black currant, smoke and tar. A heady wine. Rich, smooth and well rounded in the mouth with lovely spicy notes coming though and the vanilla sweetness persisting in the length. I wish I could drink the whole bottle.

Bodegas Fernando de Castilla, Antique Amontillado
Elegant nutty nose of roasted almonds and hazelnuts that mix with burnt caramel and citrus notes of lemon and orange peel. Bone dry on the palate with attractive oxidized aromas, refreshing acidity and a lingering hazelnut finish.

Emilio Lustau, Sweet Oloroso, Añada 1990
Tawny colour with a sweet nose of burnt toffee, caramel, raisins and almonds. Heady and rich on the palate with an unctuous mouthfeel and impressive acidity that lifts the sweetness through to the deliciously long nutty finish.

Henriques & Henriques, 15 Year Old Bual Madeira
I've just come back from Madeira so was very excited to try this. It didn't disappoint. A heady nose of dried fruits, raisins, sultanas, figs, prunes and burnt toffee. Rich, complex, delicious and mouthfilling, with hazelnuts, almonds, vanilla and burnt sugar on the palate. Scrumptious.