Wine & Food

    In good spirits: Whisky Highballs are worth a try (iStock)

    Top tipples for 2018

    8 January 2018

    I’ve been reading Adam Gopnik’s At The Stranger’s Gate, a sort of memoir about his time in New York. Gopnik has a knack for making any subject stimulating, even working at GQ in the 1980s. I chuckled at and underlined one passage in particular about the formula for writing fashion trend pieces:

    ‘This myth of eternal return went this way: Until recently, the whimsical, the arbitrary, and the showy had reigned. This season, though, simple logic, classic lines, and common sense had mercifully dethroned them. Put away your show-off shirts! Come home to the elegant drape and flow of natural fabrics.’

    I laughed because I can’t remember how many times I’ve written similar things about drinks: forget about these over-oaked wines, enough of the these fussy garish cocktails, this year we are rediscovering the classic drinks of our parents’ generation. And so in that vein, here are my boozy predictions for 2018. Hopefully you will forgive the contrivance and find something good to drink…


    Sherry is back! How often have you read that? The sherry revival has been hailed many times but in the past it only really took place on the lifestyle pages of the newspapers and at a couple of tapas bars in Soho. Now though something does seem to be happening. I wrote a report last year on wine in Spanish restaurants and heard the same story all over the country, sherry is selling. Majestic’s sherry sales increased by 25% last year. People are finally waking up to the quality, only from Jerez could you get a wine as good as the rich but bone dry Manzanilla La Pastrana for only £11.99 (Majestic when you buy a mix of six bottles)


    The current gin boom shows no signs of stopping, new distilleries are still opening regularly and, most importantly, the old new ones aren’t closing. At some point the crown has to slip but it won’t be happening for a while. According to a Yougov poll, gin has overtaken whisky and vodka as the most popular spirit in the country. Last year I was particularly taken with the Nikka Coffey Gin (The Whisky Exchange, £44.95) from Japan which tasted very classic, lots of juniper, citrus and cucumber, but with a luxurious creamy consistency. It might be the ultimate gin for a Martini.


    A great favourite of mine following a trip to the region. Armagnac, a brandy like cognac, should appeal to scotch lovers. Many have those manly gentleman club flavours, leather and tobacco, that you find in sherry-aged whiskies. The prices for vintage ones will make Scotch drinkers very happy indeed. You can buy the rich, almost Christmas cake-like, Delord 1986 for under £70 (Vintage Wine Gifts). Imagine how much a 30 year old Speyside whisky would be! The more everyday stuff such as Janneau VSOP (Master of Malt, £29) is excellent too.

    The Highball

    Essentially a whisky and soda, just like my grandmother used to drink, but with lots of ice, the highball is the drink of the Japanese salaryman. It works particularly well with either light floral whiskies such as Cutty Sark or ones with a bit of smoke and bite like Johnnie Walker Red Label. Even quite fancy whiskies respond well to the Highball treatment. I made one last week with the highly peated yet not overblown Compass Box No Name blended whisky (Master of Malt, £99.99) With a dash of orange bitters it was refreshing as G&T. In fact, more so as it was much less sweet.


    You may not have noticed but there has been a (quite quiet) vermouth explosion in recent years. Brands such as Cinzano and Martini have launched premium lines and taking on the might of the French and Italians, are producers like Asterley Bros who make their red vermouth (The Whisky Exchange, £23.95) in a garage in south London from Kentish pinot noir wine. It can be drunk neat with ice and a slice, with soda or tonic or in Negroni. The best thing about vermouth is with its complex flavours it’s essentially a ready-mixed cocktail.


    Like tequila mezcal is made from agave but whereas tequila is made from one sort in one place in Mexico, mezcal can be made from hundreds of kinds all over the country so it is as varied as wine. Most is made by small producers who don’t have the marketing clout of the big tequila companies which is perhaps why you don’t see it so often. I was particularly taken with the QuiQuiRiQui Matatlan (Master of Malt, £36.99). Try saying the name after a few drinks; it means cockadoodledoo in Spanish. It has a pungent, smoky but clean flavour that would appeal to Islay whisky lovers. It’s delicious cold on its own or as the basis for a very superior margarita.