Fruity, spicy Pinot Noir for spring


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This spring, we’re turning the spotlight onto four of our Own Selection bottles that are perfect for seasonal sipping. In this short audio clip, we take a closer look at 2020 Pinot Noir from Greystone Wines in New Zealand.

2020 New Zealand Pinot Noir by Greystone Wines

“The relatively cool climate here has given us a wine that’s very perfumed and fresh, with great purity. It’s got this lovely soft, light, fruit character, but with good grip. Very elegant and smooth, it’s really delicious with a range of dishes, from red pepper pasta to baked salmon in a Chinese barbecue sauce.”

The 2020 New Zealand Pinot Noir is available to buy here

While you’re here: we’re always looking for new ways to improve our audio, so we’d love to hear your thoughts in this very quick survey

Category: Miscellaneous

No.3 magazine: Spring/Summer 2024


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We’re delighted to reveal the latest issue of our No.3 magazine, which explores the theme of “journeys”. In this edition, we embark on a variety of journeys, from charting the voyage of the Malbec grape across the globe, to the unknown adventure of artificial intelligence. 

What does the idea of a journey mean to you? Perhaps it conjures images of mud-caked hiking boots, rucksack packed with a Thermos and sandwiches. Or the first day embarking on a challenging new qualification, armed with a fresh notebook and sharpened pencils. Perhaps it’s the thrill of new technology, buoyed by the optimism that it will ultimately transform our lives for the better. Or it could simply be jumping on the train with a bottle of wine and a copy of No.3 magazine, on your way to a friend’s house for dinner.  

Our Spring/Summer 2024 issue is dedicated to the idea of the journey in its many guises. We follow the course of the Loire River, meeting the winemakers along this route. We venture into the snowcapped peaks of Mendoza, discovering how Malbec has taken root here, so far from its original home. And we wander through the vineyards of Hampshire and Kent, uncovering a story of growth among the vines. Back in London, we peer inside our new Spirits Shop at No.1 St James’s Street, uncovering the creative collaboration process that has brought it to life.  

But there are journeys of ideas to navigate too. The transformational rise of artificial intelligence; the evolution of wine language; the ever-changing nature of storytelling in the digital age. These are the complex journeys lurking beneath the surface of our everyday lives, rapidly changing the way we interact with wine. Finally, we conclude with a journey of the self: the steep ascent to achieving the prestigious Master of Wine accreditation. 

No.3 magazine was first published in autumn 1954. Today, almost 70 years on, we face new challenges – not least of them the rise of generative AI. Yet our publication remains a celebration of the human stories in the world of fine wines and spirits. And we are still driven by the same purpose: to entertain, inspire and delight, old and new readers alike. 

Delve into our digital magazine here or pick up a printed copy in our Basingstoke Shop, or our Wine Shop at 67 Pall Mall

Category: Miscellaneous

A brief introduction to sake


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We’re delighted to offer a range of fine sakes in our new Spirits Shop at No.1 St James’s Street. But to call it a spirit (or wine) would be misleading. Sake is a distinct category with its own rich heritage, and its own unique flavour spectrum. So, if you’re new to sake, dive into a brief introduction below.

Sake has an ancient history spanning 2,500 years – as old as rice cultivation in Japan. The first written record of Japanese sake consumption comes from a Chinese document in the 3rd century AD stating: “People in Japan drink sake. They drink it in groups when they are mourning.”  

But the arrival of fine sake on the shelves of our Spirits Shop has given us more reason for celebration than mourning. With flavours ranging from bright tropical fruits to savoury umami flavours, it is completely distinct from both wines and spirits – and utterly delicious.  

So, let’s take a closer look at what sake is and how it’s made.  

What is it?  

Sake is often referred to as a rice wine, but the production process makes it closer in nature to a beer. It’s brewed from rice, and once filtered, the final liquid resembles a white wine in appearance, with hues ranging from transparent to cloudy white.  

Usually enjoyed within a year or two of bottling, it’s typically mildly flavoured with a very delicate acidity – much lower than you’d find in wine, resulting in a more subtle and muted flavour profile. However, the alcohol levels are fairly similar to those in wine, averaging at 15 – 16% ABV.   

Serving temperatures can range from warm to chilled. Sakes that have delicate fruit flavours are generally chilled to preserve this character – quite the refreshing treat on a summer afternoon. On the other hand, sakes with a more robust character – typically displaying umami or cereal flavours – are often delicious warm, with slightly higher temperatures bringing out this depth of flavour.  

How is it made?  

Sake is made using four key ingredients: rice, water, koji and yeast. The rice is polished to remove the outer layers of proteins, vitamins and minerals, until only the starch at its core remains. There are different levels to which the rice can be polished, known as the “polishing ratio”. This percentage tells us how much of the rice grain remains, rather than how much has been removed. So, for example, a 60% polishing ratio means that 60% of the rice grain is left after the polishing process. The extent to which the rice is polished determines the style and flavour profile of the resulting sake, and how it will be classified.  

As a general rule, highly polished rice results in more delicate fruit flavours, with a lighter body, lower acidity and less umami flavours. Meanwhile, rice grains that are coarsely polished have more savoury notes, with less fruit but higher in acidity and umami.  

Koji is the name of the mould that’s sprinkled over the rice to kickstart the fermentation process (quite like a sourdough starter). Koji plays a hugely important role in Japanese cuisine – a core ingredient in the production of miso, mirin and shoyu soy sauce, as well as sake and shochu. It imparts a delicate sweetness and nutty character to the rice.  

Once the rice starches have converted into sugars, a sweet liquid is made – much like beer – which is then fermented. Fermentation temperatures are relatively cool, taking place over the course of three to four weeks. Warmer temperatures result in fuller-bodied and spicier styles of sake, while cooler temperatures imbue lighter-bodied, floral and fruity characters. 

Sake classifications 

Sakes are distinguished into two categories: Junmai and non-Junmai sake. Junmai translates to “pure rice”, meaning that no further alcohol has been added. These sakes typically have a more robust flavour profile and a fuller body. Even the more refined Junmai styles (such as Ginjo and Daiginjo) will be marked by a subtle umami character. 

Non-Junmai (or aruten), on the other hand, denotes that the brewer has added a small amount of distilled alcohol, known as jozo. The reason for adding jozo is to preserve the aromas and flavours released in the fermentation process, rather than to strengthen the alcohol. The sake is then watered down, resulting in a lighter and more refined flavour profile: fruity, floral and fragrant.  

Within Junmai and non-Junmai sakes, there are further sub-divisions based on the rice polishing ratio, resulting in a range of expressions and characteristics. Whether any one is better than the other depends entirely on your palate.


These are made from the most finely milled rice (with at least 50% of the grain polished away), which gives the sake a very clean and delicate flavour. Due to the subtlety of these flavours, these sakes are usually served chilled, as heating the liquid can stifle the aromas. Often marked by notes of fresh red apple and melon, it’s said to be a classic partner for sushi and fish-heavy dishes, thanks to its cleansing character.  


Sakes classified as Ginjo are made from rice that’s been milled to a 60% polishing rate. These are typically fruity and floral, with a medium body. This type of sake is best served chilled, and is a delicious pairing for sushi dishes too. But it will generally match beautifully with anything with a more delicate character, such as oysters or simply dressed salads.  


These sakes are also made from 60% milled rice. They often exhibit a character balanced between savoury notes and a more aromatic and fruity profile. They can be medium to full in body, and can be served chilled or warm. Given their versatility, they can stand up to a range of dishes – from noodle dishes such as udon and yaki soba, to shellfish and white meats.  


Sakes labelled simply as Junmai are made from rice milled to a 70% ratio, with no addition of brewer’s alcohol. They usually display a savoury, full-bodied character, with more bitter earthy notes and a higher acidity. Junmai can be served warm or chilled, making it a versatile food partner. Grilled fish, stir-fried vegetables or a hearty bowl of ramen will all be delicious.  


This non-Junmai sake is made from rice with a 70% polishing rate. It has a similar robust profile to Junmai, but – with the addition of brewer’s alcohol – it has a slightly more aromatic character than its “pure rice” counterpart. It usually exhibits cereal notes, with muted fruit. Like Junmai, Honjozo sakes can be served warm or chilled, matching well with a whole range of dishes. 

Sake is a fascinating and complex category to explore – much like wine. If you’re not sure where to start, we highly recommend the OKA from Dewazakura Brewery – one of Japan’s most renowned producers. Made in the ginjo style, it is delicate and floral, and wonderfully versatile with food. Pop into our store at No.1 St James’s Street to pick up a bottle.  

Category: Miscellaneous

Finishing in Scotch Whisky


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Scotch whisky distillery Tomatin produces a beautiful and delicate single malt whisky, which is incredibly approachable. For one week a year, they also produce a whisky made with very lightly peated barley, called Cù Bòcan. It is this spirit that forms the base of Creations, a series of releases showcasing different aspects of their whisky by using different finishing barrels. But how does finishing work? Whilst enjoying and finishing a bottle of whisky might be easy, finishing as an ageing process is an art that requires lots of considerations. Barbara Drew MW delves into them below.   

Whisky. In many ways, a simple spirit. After all, it’s just barley, yeast, and water, right? Well, not exactly. There is a fourth ingredient, and it is mandatory – oak. To be labelled as Scotch whisky, a spirit must be aged in oak barrels, of 700 litres or less, for three years or more.  

However, a brand new, fresh-from-the-cooperage oak barrel contains a huge amount of flavour – from the toast on the inside of the staves, to the vanillins and lactones in the oak (that taste of vanilla and cream respectively). These flavours are very easily extracted into high-strength alcohol like the new-make spirit (new-make refers to the freshly distilled spirit, normally around 65-70% as it comes off the still). Three years’ ageing in a new barrel would overwhelm the subtle flavours of the barley in the new-make, resulting in a harsh, tannic and excessively oaky spirit.  

Instead, producers use old oak barrels, which have already been used to store spirits (or sometimes wines). The barrels have thus given up the majority of their more intense flavours. Many of these older barrels formerly held Bourbon. When making Bourbon, producers must use only brand new oak casks. After a few years, once the Bourbon is bottled, the casks need a new home. There is therefore a healthy trade in once-used, ex-Bourbon barrels to Scotland.  

This is great news for Scotch fans, as these barrels impart all sorts of delicious flavours to the whisky, from coconut to vanilla and sometimes a delicate toffee note too.  

Bourbon barrels are not the only oak barrel used to age Scotch whisky though. You may have heard of Sherry cask whisky, and Sherry casks are very popular amongst whisky makers. These barrels are generally made from European oak – either French or Spanish – and often lend slightly spicier notes to the whisky. Depending on what type of Sherry was originally aged in the cask, some of those flavours will also end up in the whisky too, with walnut and raisin notes from Oloroso Sherry casks and almond and olive notes from a Fino Sherry cask.  

Different ingredients in the blend 

Alongside spirits barrels, many wine producers sell casks to whisky distilleries, and whiskies are often “finished” in these casks – spending the last year or so of their maturation gathering an additional array of flavours in these barrels. This can lead to a wide diversity of styles. For those who like their whiskies with a hint of raisins and dark chocolate, those finished in Port casks are perfect; for more subtle marmalade, honey and saffron notes, a whisky finished in a Sauternes cask may suit. 

Other spirits producers may also share casks for finishing, with a focus in recent years on different types of rum casks lending their intense fruit characters, or even Tequila barrels, which add a subtle peppery zing to spirits aged in them.  

This process of finishing a whisky, though, is not just about adding another flavour to the spirit. Think of it instead as a tweak to the recipe to highlight different aspects of the underlying spirit. Scotch whisky producers can produce subtly different styles of spirit by experimenting with fermentation, distillation and maturation. Finishing adds another element, a way to spotlight certain flavours within the spirit, and accentuate them using the flavours in the finishing barrel.  

Such a process works best when the spirit is not overwhelmed by these flavours, but merely complemented by them, something achieved to great effect by Tomatin’s Creations series.  

Finished Creations 

Each of the Creations releases showcases the effect of a different finishing barrel (or two). For example, Creations #6 has been finished in Pedro Ximenez (PX) Sherry casks and Jamaican rum casks. These two types of cask work very well together, with the PX casks adding a rich, almost treacley raisin character to the spirit. The Jamaican rum casks bring tropical fruit characters; Jamaican rums are known for their particularly pungent banana and pineapple aromas. There is also a lovely ginger spice as well, accentuated by this finishing regime.  

Together, the result is a smooth and delicate whisky, interwoven with subtle notes of ripe tropical fruit, brown banana, raisins and ginger. This is all offset beautifully by the slight tang of peat smoke, acting as a counterpoint to the fruit.  

Of course there are as many different styles of cask finishes as there are distilleries in Scotland. Work your way through a few to explore the different ingredients and decide which is your perfect finish.  

Cù Bòcan Creation #6 is available here

Category: Miscellaneous