Six Italian wines from the Co-op (and one Trophy winner!)

THE Co-op white wine Truly Irresistible Fiano 2014 has picked up the Great Value White under £7 trophy from the International Wine Challenge.  I spent an afternoon with the man who brought the wine to the shelves,  the Co-op’s Italian wines buyer,  Ben Cahill.

First, I asked Ben what he would say to people who don’t buy Italian wines.

He said: “Italy is not renowned for its wines – people think cheap gluggable whites or chianti – but the quality has improved immeasurably. There’s been a renaissance; over the last 30 years Italy has enjoyed an absolute revolution.”

He said: “Now’s the time to try Italian wines if you haven’t already. If I had less than a tenner to spend on a bottle and I wanted something exciting then Italy is the first country I’d make a beeline for.

“The majority of reds  are  food friendly and the quality of whites has gone through the roof.”

Ben Cahill Co-op wine buyer
Ben Cahill

Italian wines: Here’s three whites and three reds from the Co-op’s range

The Co-operative Orvieto Classico (£5.49) This is definitely an alternative to pinot grigio as it’s just a bit more interesting (well, most things are). It is crisp, clean, revitalising, with more body, and  more rounded than pinot grigio, slightly  honeyed, almondy with a good balance between acidity and fruit.  If you like a PG and fancy a change, but not too much of a change, go for it.

Gavi La Luciani (£7.49)  This is very pretty and feminine, with a contrast between floral notes and stony minerality. A touch of lime lingers at the back of the mouth after you swallow, giving both an extra bite and a mouth-watering moreishness. It’s a wine to have in the fridge ready to chink chink on a sunny day.

The Co-operative Truly Irresistible Fiano (£6.99) Golden in colour, quite rich, with aromas which hopscotch between citrus, herbs, and flowers. I’d recently cooked a risotto with this (I drank some too!) and it was interesting to see how the same vintage – 2014 – had developed. It has more weight than the gavi and the orvieto, and felt  comfortable in its soul.

The Co-operative Truly Irresistible Barbera d’Asti (£6.99)  This has a fair amount of tannin and structure but wasn’t mouth drying. It had a slight smokiness, with aromas of cherries, bramble fruit, wild blackberries, dried leaves and a hint of savoury. So much going on!  

Bibbiano Chianti Classico (£9.99) Ben has brought this wine exclusively to the Co-op. Bibbiano supplies top-notch restaurants and he explored further and developed a partnership which has seen a slight tweak on the blend, but with the same winemaking expertise behind it.  It is a great  example of its type for less than £10. It would be fantastic with tomato-lashed spaghetti.

Villa Annaberta Amarone della Valpolicella (£17.99) I love the story of amarone wine. Time and skill is invested in making it, hence the price tag, but it’s worth it. Grapes are dried on racks before being fermented and the result is a wine that is very rich, almost a port, with  a slightly unctuous weight in the mouth. Enjoy with cheese instead of port – or simply sit in a comfy chair in front of a fire and wallow in selfish tranquility.

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First published in the saturday extra magazine February 2016

Liverpool Echo – South Wales Echo – Daily Post Wales – Huddersfield Examiner – The Chronicle, Newcastle – Teesside Evening Gazette – Birmingham  Mail – Coventry Telegraph – Paisley Daily Express

Spitfire Heritage Gin takes spirit of icon to soar to new heights

There’s a new gin on the block, Spitfire Heritage Gin. Yeh, right, you say. There’s new gins created every day.  A butterfly flutters its wings somewhere in the world and lo! there’s a new gin.

There’s certainly wings involved in this new single estate botanical gin as it is inspired by the wartime terrier of the skies … the Spitfire.

Judging by first impressions it could soar to dizzy heights.   

Spitfire Heritage Gin is the brainchild of Lancastrian Ian Hewitt, a designer by trade and inspirational by nature.  Just four months ago, Christmas 2015, he and his wife Sarah began to tease out an idea of creating a new gin with the spirit of the Spitfire at its heart.

You might think they had their heads in the clouds, but a few weeks later a master distiller has created the gin; wartime-retro branding has been designed and printed; and best of all, Spitfire Heritage Gin has won a UK and international distributor and is to be sold by Wine Rack (RRP £45).

Wine Rack’s Head of Retail Operations, Haydn Hicks says of the gin: “A fantastic product and a great story that sells itself within the British psyche. An iconic brand that I believe will set new precedents in the industry.”

Pretty amazing.   And it all began with a book.

Ian, from Mawdesley, wrote a story for his own children,  the Ghost of Cameron Crowe, about a granddad who has a Spitfire hidden in his shed.

The Ghost of Cameron Crow -Spitfire Heritage Gin
The Ghost of Cameron Crow

When Ian decided to publish he checked technical details with Spitfire expert David Spencer Evans. That began a connection which saw them launch the Spitfire Heritage Trust and years later, with the Spitfire at its heart, it is helping communities and young people both in the UK and in Africa.  

Through his work with the trust Ian has realised that the Spitfire is an icon which both resonates and motivates people across the world and all generations.

He told me: “A Spitfire is a very special thing. It hasn’t been tainted like the Union Jack, the flag of St George or the British Bulldog.

“People talk about 1966 and they go ooohhh aaahh, that was amazing when England won the Cup. But when the Spitfire won the  Battle of Britain, they didn’t win a cup. They won this nation’s right to continue under its own identity. That’s a bit more than a cup. And that’s why people still go glassy-eyed.”

The Spitfire is a very powerful brand and Ian asked himself what was the “quintessential English product” he could pin that to. His instinct was gin.

Spitfire Heritage Gin Ian Hewitt
Ian Hewitt

So began his journey to create Spitfire Heritage Gin but Ian wanted to do the Spitfire justice.

Says Ian:  “You can’t pay tribute to the Spitfire with a mediocre gin. That wouldn’t feel right. It would have a limited lifespan and would just be an all-right gin with a cool label. I didn’t want that. I wanted a top gin with a cool label.

“The Spitfire allows you to punch higher than your weight.  I started looking around to see who was making the best gin and was introduced to John Walters.”

John is an award-winning single estate distiller.  He was a geneticist and developed a wheat suited to the distilling industry.  He now grows wheat, harvests it, and distills it in Cambridgeshire.

Ian shared his vision with John.  He wanted a gin which harnessed the spirit of the 30s, a retro gin which would also represent the heritage of the Spitfire.

Distiller John embraced that vision and on February 29, Leap Year’s Day,  Ian and Sarah took their own leap into the future by tasting the new gin expression created by John. Botanicals include juniper, two types of orange, almonds and borage alongside coriander, rosemary, star anise and rose petals.

They loved it. Their dream was finally taking off.

The next step in the Spitfire Heritage Gin journey was the labelling and marketing. They brought in another partner Denise France, and the Hewitts turned to French artist Romain Hugault whose passion is aviation illustration.  

Says Ian: “I commissioned him to come up with a character and Bunny was created. She’s an Air Transport Auxiliary girl – the  ATA girls delivered newly-built unarmed Spitfires by flying them to the wartime airbases, knowing that Messerschmitts were out there hunting Spitfires. They were amazing women.”

Spitfire Heritage Gin
Spitfire Heritage Gin

Bunny is Spitfire Heritage Gin’s launch label and over time Romaine will create more labels, and  in themselves they could become collectable.

Now then, down to business, what of the Spitfire Heritage Gin?

I sipped it with Ian, Sarah and Denise; and Ian was taking no prisoners. He asked us to start by tasting it neat.

He explained why. “I want to encourage people to start drinking gin with the reverence you assign to a whisky. This is delicious – there’s not many gins on the market that can stand to be drunk as pure as this.”

Ian is right. The gin is soft on the nose, an enticing citrus bomb within a liquorice cloud. Orange takes centre stage; my senses were pulled from memories of  Southern Comfort to Cointreau; to the orange tease you find inside some Christmas puddings. Natural borage oil helps to distribute the botanicals through the gin, so there isn’t a soapy, chemical “linger” on the nose which you can get from some gins.

Spitfire Heritage Gin
A twizzle of rosemary in Spitfire Heritage Gin

There’s a seek-me-out underlying citrus vibe in the mouth and when you stir the gin with a twig of rosemary, the herb notes tickle to life and rise in the glass, as if you’ve just brushed against them in a herb garden. The texture on the tastebuds is soft, velvety, with a  creamy nut-feel.

Sarah Hewitt is very happy. She says simply: “I love gin, it’s the best gin I’ve ever tasted. This has been such a short quick journey but  I feel proud. Very, very proud and delighted.”

Follow updates from Spitfire Heritage Gin via its Facebook page here or on www.spitfireheritagegin.com
Learn more about the Spitfire Heritage Trust and the work it is doing to support communities in Lesotho and the UK here.  
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