Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Islay Whisky January 2015


Islay Whisky
Smoky, peaty and sometimes termed as medicinal, Islay Whiskies are certainly unique.  Lovers of these potent amber liquids tend to be loyal for life, loathers are put off by the strength of flavours in the aromas alone, let alone the taste.

Why these strong, distinctive flavours?   
It’s all down to the peat.  There is no local coal on the isle of Islay so peat has been used as a source of energy.  It burns well and is in abundant supply.  Local water is brown and needs to be filtered and processed to remove the colours.  Many producers choose to work with the brown water in the distillation process. Barley grains are laid out on the floor of a large malting house.  Underneath the floor is a heating system, and in Islay, this heat is produced by burning peat.  The heat tricks the barley grains to believe it is Spring and they start the germination process.  This germination releases stored carbohydrate and converts them to sugars which are then extracted and fermented into a beer.  This beer is then distilled to produce the spirit that will become Islay Whisky.

The aromas released from the peat infiltrate the germinating barley grains and are so pungent that they remain throughout the whole distillation process.  Even years of maturation do not temper these aromas, it just mellows them.  Other whisky flavours of honey, lemon, warm tropical fruit and spices combine to produce the acclaimed product.  Another flavour descriptor of Islay Whiskies is iodine.  This comes from the salt that is blown onto the peat from the stormy sea conditions and becomes embedded into the peat. 

Producers can choose the intensity of the peat flavours and different distillers on the island select their level carefully.  The South of the island tends to produce the strongest flavoured whiskies (Laphroaig,  Caol Ila, Lagavulin & Ardberg) with the North producing more medium peated (Bowmore) and some unpeated varities (Bruichladdich & Bunnahabhain).  New distilleries are currently maturing their whiskies to be released in the next 5-10 years.

Once made, the spirit needs to mature for a minimum of 3 years to become Scotch Whisky.  In reality, the maturation duration is often much, much longer.  This slow, majestic maturation allows the alcohol of the spirit to mellow and the flavours develop gently.  This is the opposite to American Whiskies whose maturation is much shorter and takes place in hot storage shed to speed up the process. 

Why not treat yourself to some of this special whisky to celebrate Burns Night on 25th January.  You may just become one of the loyal lovers.


Sunday, 9 November 2014

New Zealand Chardonnay

New Zealand Chardonnay

Elegance is the word I associate with the New Zealand style of Chardonnay.  Forget the BOOM of the late 90’s Aussie and Californian Chardonnays which packed a heavy oaky punch, forget the association with Footballers Wives, these Chardonnays have a class and sophistication which cannot fail to impress.

Chardonnay is grown in most of New Zealand’s vineyard areas but for me, the stand out wines come from the east of the North Island around Hawkes Bay and Gisborne.  Unusually, many of these wines are grown on predominately flat, fertile land but the management techniques employed in the vineyard address any issue of excess vine vigour and overproduction.  New Zealand celebrates the skills of the winemaker more than the land it is grown upon – a reversal of the importance of the French acclaims of ‘terroir’.  The importance of soils is however becoming more recognised and in particular, the sub-region of Gimblett Gravels is producing some very complex wines with the characteristics being attributed equally to the gravel based soils.   

These regions have a high rate of sunshine hours (average 2188 hrs compared to Burgundys’ 1919 hrs) leaving the heralded winemaker with the challenge of balancing ripeness of the grape against the desired acidity which contributes to the elegance of the wines. 

Techniques in the winery add to the sense of precision of these wines.  Oak is used to gently compliment the wines rather than overpower.  The wines are often left on their lees (the used yeast cells from the fermentation process) giving an additional weight to the wine.  Malolactic fermentation (conversion of harsher malic acids to lactic acids) is not routinely used. 

New Zealand wines have been one of the front runners in the introduction and use of screwcaps.  First introduced in 2001, most of the wines from these regions will be bottles in screwcap.

All together, these factors produce a range of fantastic Chardonnays which I urge you to try.  Match with most foods, these wines have flavour, weight and complexity to match many vegetable, fish, poultry or pork dishes.  They are also perfect with cheese.

Please see the Recommendations page of the website for examples of wines from these regions.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Wine Wise Course Schedule

Wine Wise Course Schedule

    Nov 14 – April 15       Sutton Coldfield      

WSET Level 1

Sunday 18 January
One Day Course 9.30am–5pm
Monday 19 January
One Day Course 9.30am-5pm
Thursday 26 February
One Day Course 9.30am-5pm
Saturday 25 April
One Day Course 9.30am-5pm
The full course can be completed in One Day, including the Exam. 
Wed 4th & Thurs 5th March
Two Day Course 10am-2pm


  WSET Level 2

Sunday 16 November
Plus 23rd & 30th November

Three Day Course 9.30am–5pm
Monday 17 November
Plus 24th Nov & 1 Dec
Three Day Course 9.30am-5pm
Sunday 01 February
Plus 08th & 15th February
Three Day Course 9.30am-5pm
Monday 02 February
Plus 09th & 16th February
Three Day Course 9.30am-5pm
The above courses offer flexible learning approach.  You will be allowed to switch your dates between the corresponding Sunday/Monday course should you be unable to make one of the dates.  Please enquire for more information.
Tuesday Evening – starting 13 Jan
Nine Week course  7.00pm-9.15pm
Further Level 2 Courses available in June
WSET Level 2 Distance Learning option available to start at anytime.


 WSET Level 3

Sunday 08 March
Plus 15th & 22 March and
12th & 19th April
Five Day Course 9.30am–5pm
Monday 09 March
Plus 16th & 22nd March and
13th & 20th April
Five Day Course 9.30am-5pm
The above courses offer flexible learning approach.  You will be allowed to switch your dates between the corresponding Sunday/Monday course should you be unable to make one of the dates.  Please enquire for more information

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Albarino October


October is Albarino month at Wine Wise

About the Grapes

Albarino is a white grape variety predominantly from the Rias Baixas region of Galicia in North West Spain.  The region started to develop its commercial wine production in the mid 1980’s when the wine became fashionable in the capital Madrid.

The wine is refreshing and high in acidity with fresh fruit flavours and a touch of minerality.  The fruit flavours display as white peach and lime with a superfresh characteristic.  The wine pairs well with local seafood and can match up to a creamy sauce thanks to the high acidity levels.

Alcohol levels are not too high with these wines.  The balance of sugar ripeness and acidity levels in the grapes falls in favour of the latter and therefore there is a modest amount of sugar to converted into alcohol  Typical levels are 12-12.5%

Most wines are young and fresh and are not meant for ageing.  Usual recommendations are to drink the wines between 1 & 3 years.  There is some experimentation with oak ageing and resting on lees (this is the process of leaving the wine in contact with the used yeast cells after fermentation).  These will offer additional complexity to the wines with a full body and creamy or biscuit-like characteristics with the possibility of some extended ageing.


Untypical of Spain, this windy region is lush and green and has nearly twice as much rainfall than Manchester.  Overall annual average temperature is 15 degrees (UK enjoys overall annual averages of 7-11 degrees).  This is considered marginal for the full ripeness of grapes (16 degrees is usually considered minimum) and the climate is considered cool in grape growing terms.  It can be difficult to get the grapes to full ripeness and vintages can widely differ.  Some summer temperatures however can reach 40 degrees which aids grape development and ripening
The region is home to pine forests and eucalyptus trees, the latter of which were introduced in the 1950s and have thrived in this environment.  As well as being a coastal environment and subject to sea mists and maritime influences, there are a series of rias (similar to the fjords of Scandinavia) and also complex river system leading to high humidity, even far inland.  To combat this, many of the vines are grown on pergolas which provide an elevated growing position away from the floor.  Air can circulate easily underneath and throughout the vines and reduce the risk of fungus and mildew.  Quite often other crops are grown beneath the vines or animals are able to graze, doubling the value  of the land.

The soils tend tp be of an alluvial nature due to the river system with a high prevalence of granite.

The individual berries are usually small with thick skins, protecting the grape from the cool, damp conditions and threat of mildew.  Despite the difficult climate, the vines are usually high yielding with little impact on flavour intensity.  It is usually considered good practice to limit the amount of bunches on a vine to preserve the flavours of the remaining grapes.  This is not so imperative in this region.

Human Factor

Until recently many vineyards were not well tended and the grapes used for local and domestic wines only.  Many of the local population left the region in search of city employment so ownership was remote and bare minimum attention was paid to the land.  However, since the upsurge of interest from the 1980’s onwards, vineyards are being reclaimed from nature and restored to full productivity.  Some wire trained linear vineyards are appearing which can take advantage of machine harvesting but on the whole, the traditional pergola systems prevail. 

There are over 6500 different growers in the region who sell their grapes to one of 178 wineries.  Many of these are co-operatives.

Many wine merchants and supermarkets are now listing Albarino.  Prices range from around £8.00 upwards.  

In summary, this wine is a flavoursome refreshing wine and a welcome change from the flooded market of Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio. 

Please see the website for recommendations –

Monday, 29 September 2014

New at Wine Wise

All New at Wine Wise

You may have noticed we have a new website and new image.  We hope to bring you some simple wine facts and wine information to increase your understanding of some of the worlds wines. 
A little knowledge goes a long way in wine.  We believe that just a few facts can really help you gain an association with a wine and therefore your sense of enjoyment increases. 
Each month we will feature a different style of wine.  There will be a blog giving interesting fun filled information about the wine.  Access to this blog is via the website or at
There will also be recommended wines of the month to try.  These will be posted on the website Recommendations pages and will also feature on Facebook and Twitter feeds.  These are entirely subjective opinions as we are an independent company and therefore are not open to persuasion from wine producers/supplier/sellers.


If you have any questions or comments, please get in touch.  These features will hopefully start a conversation and help you discover different styles of wine you may or may not be familiar with.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Dream Course - Learning about Wine

***3 Wines for £10***    ***Half Price offers**    

***Nice Label***   

***Chateauneuf-du-Pape for special occasions***


Do these resemble the factors which influence your choice of wine?


If you enjoy drinking wine, why not learn a little more about it.


A recent article for Stylist magazine quoted the WSET Level 2 Award in Wines and Spirits as one of the 12 Dream Courses to enrol on.It will help you enjoy the drinks you choose,give you the confidence to try unfamiliar wines and also understand the marketing methods used to entice customers.

So why do this course?

§ The course is relatively short - often run intensively over 3 days.

§ You will taste many wines, opening your mind to the different wine styles available.

§ You will be able to interpret restaurant and bar wine lists with confidence.

§ You will gain a globally recognised qualification which can lead to new opportunities


The Wine Wise Company is run by Nina Smith, a local wine expert and author. During her wine career Nina has worked for Waitrose, been a judge at the International Wine and Spirits Competition and created an alcohol awareness program for 18-24year olds. Before her career in wine, Nina was a stewardess with British Airways where her interest in learning about wine began.

Courses are often held at Buzzards Valley Winery, Sutton Coldfield's local vineyard. It is one of the only wine schools in the country to be held at a working vineyard and courses include visits to the vineyard and winery to bring the study to life.

The next course runs over 3 consecutive Saturdays from 24 November - 8 December 2012, 9.30-5.00pm. The cost of the course is £350 inclusive of study material and examination.
If you are interested and have further quesions, or wish to reserve a place on the course, please call Nina on 07804 494083 or e-mail

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Why Learn about Wine?

Many people are interested in wine.  Some like to read about wine, some like to study wine, some like to talk about it endlessly....... but everyone interested in wine likes to drink it.

Drinking wine brings pleasure.  The pleasure comes in many guises - social pleasure,  sensual pleasure, relaxation pleasure.  It enhances a meal, an occasion and provides a central focus of celebration.  However, we all know that there is a dark side to the pleasures of alcoholic effect of wine.  Any alcohol taken in excess will have an impact on the drinker. 
These are well documented and many interventions are attempted with every passing generation.  Currently it is minimum alcohol prices, previously in America it was Prohibition.  Prior to that Gin houses of London had to be shut down and production allowed by only 9 producers as the population was so inebriated, productivity of the working population had sunk to lows never experienced before.
How do we strike a balance between the pleasure and pain?  We all have a responsibility to manage our alcohol consumption, yet so many of us seem to get the balance so wrong. 

In my opinion, one measure we can all take is to become more engaged in the alcohol we are purchasing.  It is estimated that over 70% of purchasers in the UK are guided by price in their purchases.  Offers and promotions not only entice us but guide us into buying something we do not know enough about.  How often have you bought a wine at half price assuming it is a superior quality as it 'used to be £12.99'.  Immediately we have made an assumption about how the wine will taste from the yellow ticket situated on the shelf below it. 

Have you ever about the marketing campaign behind this promotion?  Has a case of this wine been on a shelf in a corner of a remote store for 28 days gathering dust before being launched nationwide on the gondola ends of the supermarket by the pallet-load?  Yet many of us are happy to believe this wine is really worth more that we are paying for it.

How are you expected to know these tricks of the trade of a product which is so varied and confusing in the first place?  The answer is that you are not.

However, there is a growing trend of wine education which uncovers the complexities of the wine market.  By knowing the product, its provenance and how to taste it, you will enjoy wine in a completely new way.   This knowledge increases responsibility in consumption and reduces the potential to abuse.
The Wine WiseCompany offers a variety of courses for those wishing to understand more about the wine they drink.  On Saturday 13 October, we have a two hour introduction to wine called How To Taste Wine which will take you through the stages of tasting wine and the terminology used on a label.

We also offer formal Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) courses.  These are the globally recognised qualifications for both professionals and enthusiasts alike.   We have a WSET Level 2 coming up in November, taught over a period of 8 weeks on Thursday Evenings.  Please see the website

We also run a new program of courses aimed at the 18-24 year olds called Drink It:Taste It.  These aim to educate this age group through responsible wine and beer tastings to make smarter alcohol choices and therefore reduce the impact of alcohol in their lives.

For full details of these courses and more, please visit the website   You can also call Nina on 07804 494083 or e-mail